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Full text of "Scepticisms, notes on contemporary poetry"





^RT 




THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 

IN MEMORY OF 
MRS. VIRGINIA B. SPORER 



SCEPTICISMS 



BOOKS BY CONRAD AIKEN 

EARTH TRIUMPHANT 

TURNS AND MOVIES 

THE JIG OF HORSLIN 

NOCTURNE OF REMEMBERED SPRING 

THE CHARNEL ROSE 

THE HOUSE OF DUST 

SCEPTICISMS 



SCEPTICISMS 

NOTES ON 
CONTEMPORARY POETRY 



CONRAD AIKEN 




>{W TORK 
ALFRED ' A ' KNOPF 

MCMXIX 



COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY 
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC. 



FEINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMERICA 



College 
Library 
IV 

' I] 



To 
MT WIFE 



CONTENTS 

I APOLOGIA PRO SPECIE SUA 1 1 
II THE MECHANISM OF POETIC INSPIRA- 
TION 32 

III POETRY IN AMERICA 48 

IV THE Two MAGICS: EDGAR LEE MAS- 

TERS 65 

V THE FUNCTION OF RHYTHM : FORD MA- 

DOX HUEFFER 76 

VI THE LITERARY ABBOZZO: LOLA RIDGE 85 
VII THE MELODIC LINE: D. H. LAWRENCE 91 
VIII POSSESSOR AND POSSESSED: JOHN GOULD 

FLETCHER 105 

IX THE TECHNIQUE OF POLYPHONIC 

PROSE: AMY LOWELL 115 

X POETRY AS SUPERNATURALISM : WIL- 
LIAM STANLEY BRAITHWAITE 126 

XI ROMANTIC TRADITIONALISM: ALAN 

SEEGER 133 

XII A POINTLESS POINTILLIST: EZRA 

POUND 136 

XIII POETIC REALISM : CARL SANDBURG 143 

XIV A NOTE ON THE EVOLUTION OF A POET : 

JOHN MASEFIELD 149 

vV THE HIGHER VAUDEVILLE: VACHEL 

LINDSAY 155 

XVI NEW CURIOSITY SHOP AND JEAN DE 

BOSSCHERE 160 



CONTENTS 

XVII NARRATIVE POETRY AND THE VESTIGIAL 
LYRIC: JOHN MASEFIELD, ROBERT 
NICHOLS, FREDERIC MANNING 170 

XVIII CONFECTIONERY AND CAVIAR: EDWARD 
BLISS REED, JOHN COWPER POWYS, 
JOYCE KILMER, THEODOSIA GARRISON, 
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS 178 

XIX THE RETURN OF ROMANTICISM: WAL- 
TER DE LA MARE, JOHN GOULD 
FLETCHER, WILLIAM ROSE BENET 187 
XX THE MORTALITY OF MAGIC: ROBERT 

GRAVES, ROY HELTON, NEW PATHS 193 

XXI VARIETIES OF REALISM: WILFRID WIL- 
SON GIBSON, WILLIAM ASPENWALL 
BRADLEY, T. S. ELIOT 199 

XXII AMERICAN RICHNESS AND ENGLISH 
DISTINCTION : RALPH HODGSON, HAR- 
OLD MONRO, WALTER DE LA MARE 206 

XXIII POETS AS REPORTERS: EDITH WYATT, 

RICHARD BUTLER GLAENZER, CHRIS- 
TOPHER MORLEY; A TREASURY OF 
WAR POETRY 216 

XXIV SUNT RERUM LACRIMAE: CHINESE PO- 

ETRY 224 

XXV Vox ET PRAETEREA : MAXWELL BODEN- 

HEIM 232 

XXVI PHILOSOPHY FOR THE FLUTE: ALFRED 

KREYMBORG 240 

XXVII AMY LOWELL AS CRITIC 251 

XXVIII THE IVORY TOWER: Louis UNTER- 

MEYER AS CRITIC 258 

XXIX MAGIC OR LEGERDEMAIN? 272 

XXX APPENDIX: A NOTE ON VALUES 281 

SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY 297 



Apologia Pro Specie Sua 



IT has not been my intention, in the pages 
which compose this book, to deal compre- 
hensively with contemporary poetry, nor 
even, for that matter, to deal exhaustively with 
that part of it which I have touched at all. That 
sort of study has seldom attracted me. It has 
been my aim rather to deal only with the most 
interesting aspects of contemporary poetry, and 
to do so in a manner which might provoke and 
stimulate not only the casual reader but, odd as 
it may seem, the unfortunate poet himself. Any- 
body must have been aware, as I point out repeat- 
edly in the following pages, of the fact that the 
present poetic era is one of uncertainty, of con- 
fusion and conflict. New ground has been broken 
in a good many directions, or ground which, if not 
new, has been at any rate so long unused as to 
have that appearance, at least, and to inspire a 

DO 



SCEPTICISMS 

certain amount of scepticism as to the resultant 
crops; and it has been engagingly natural, under 
these circumstances, that each poet should claim 
the most astounding properties for his own plot of 
soil, and become a little wilfully cynical as to the 
claims of his rivals. No one would expect much 
praise of Masefield or Abercrombie or Gibson at 
the hands of the Imagists, for example, nor, on 
the other side should one hope for much gratuitous 
enthusiasm over the Imagists or Others from, let 
us say, Frost or Masters. Those poets who, like 
myself, are critics of poetry as well, have had an 
almost unfair advantage in this situation. They 
have been able to articulate their particular theo- 
ries, to argue for them in the public forum. It 
was a perception of the advantages of this sort of 
propaganda which drew the Imagists together un- 
der a somewhat specious symbol, and persuaded 
them to write prefaces in which the self -conscious- 
ness of the authors was just a trifle shrill, just a 
shade too "Noli me tangere" ; it was a perception 
of the same thing that suggested to Alfred Kreym- 
borg and others the uses of a periodical of their 
own, in which the nimble word-jugglers and sensa- 
tion-balancers of that group if it can be called a 
group might juggle to their hearts' content, care- 

CM 



APOLOGIA 

less of ceiling or sky, and happily aware of a cer- 
tain amount of audience; it was the same percep- 
tion, finally, which has led Ezra Pound, Louis 
Untermeyer, John Gould Fletcher, Maxwell Bo- 
denheim, Miss Harriet Monroe, Miss Amy Lowell, 
and myself, among others, to write, first and 
last, a good deal of criticism of poetry. We have 
all pretended pretty much, of course, in these 
cases, to write judicially. Our utterances are 
apt to sound authoritative and final. But do not 
be deceived ! We are no surer of ourselves at bot- 
tom than anybody else is. We are, in fact, half 
the time, frightened to death. 



ii 

Frightened to death, I mean, precisely of each 
other. . . . No one, I daresay, who is not himself 
in the game, would guess this. The usual opinion 
of us is that when we are not rolling our eyes to- 
ward heaven in fine frenzies we are rather a san- 
guinary lot, spoiling for fights in sheer love of 
bloodshed. When I am seen, for example, assail- 
ing Mr. Untermeyer, or Mr. Untermeyer is seen 
assailing Mr. Fletcher, or Miss Lowell is seen 
assailing me, the usual observation is simply to the 

PS 



SCEPTICISMS 

effect that "poets are certainly a vain and con- 
tentious lot of cockatoos." Well, vain enough we 
are, in all conscience; but I do not think we are 
by nature contentious. The fact is that we are 
simply, as I said, afraid mortally and secretly 
afraid. 

The reasons for this should be clear enough to 
any one who will give his imagination to it for a 
moment. What we are afraid of is the competi- 
tion : a factor which few people are apt to consider 
in connection with the success or failure of an ar- 
tist, but one which is always in considerable degree 
present, and which at the moment, as at all other 
moments of artistic recrudescence, is extremely im- 
portant. The competition among poets in this 
country just now is, as a matter of fact, severe to 
the point of deadliness. Not merely, I mean, in 
the effort to secure publishers and publicity, 
though few enough, truly, achieve even that 
much; but more importantly in the next stage, 
when, having secured a certain indispensable 
amount of recognition, the poet begins to exert 
himself in the most audacious and exhausting task 
of his life, namely, to convince himself, his public, 
and his fellow-poets that there is nothing acci- 
dental about his success, that his work has about it 

[143 



APOLOGIA 

a certain uniqueness of distinction which should 
commend it for perpetuity, and even that it may 
have, somewhat, the qualities of greatness. I do 
not wish to maintain that this undertaking is 
wholly conscious : but if the poet is not wholly or 
at all times conscious of it, neither is he wholly un- 
conscious of it. And it is precisely of the ghastly 
possibility that his impression of himself may be 
wrong, that his undertaking, and indeed his life, 
since the two are nearly synonymous, may be 
only dust in the nostrils, that he is so secretly and 
so profoundly afraid. 

In these circumstances, it is entirely natural that 
the poet, if he command a decent prose style, or is 
accustomed to the exactions of speech-making, 
should set about hunting converts. What he is 
going to say is largely predetermined. It will be, 
as it were, a slow distillation of his temperament 
through his reason. There will be moments of 
uncertainty at the outset, moments when his tem- 
perament goes too fast for him, and is not properly 
alembricated. At such moments his dicta will 
have a little too much, as he perceives later, the 
air of personal tastes and whims, and not suffi- 
ciently the carved serenity of, let us say, a poetic 
decalogue. But with time he achieves this stony 

D53 



SCEPTICISMS 

solidity: his pronouncements increase in massive- 
ness and weight. And many a young head is 
crushed beneath them. 



in 

It is not, however, the young heads which most 
attract his lithologues : it is rather the heads of an 
age with his own, and those a little older, those 
that are bobbing, so to speak, for the same crown, 
which most perturb him. This attitude is only 
human; though one would scarcely expect most 
poets to admit it with much candour. If our poet 
is, for example, an Imagist, who has been, let us 
say, pretty successful as a writer of short lyrics 
in free verse, conspicuous for their coruscations of 
colour, their glittering edges, and conspicuous also, 
in a sense, for their lack of conceptual or emotional 
elements, he will be a trifle sceptic about poetry 
which is narrative, or philosophic, or realistic. 
Let us perceive his case with care: let us sympa- 
thize with him profoundly. He is, let us say, 
hyperaesthetic, and exquisitely balanced; extraor- 
dinarily acute in his perceptions of sensory mood, 
miraculously adept in recalling, without allowing 
a single minute jewel-particle of colour to escape, 

D6] 



APOLOGIA 

the most evanescently beautiful of the kaleido- 
scopic patterns of sensation which fall together, 
and fall apart again, in the coolness of the mind. 
This is his temperament, and, slightly dimmed, 
this is his poetry. What must he conclude when 
he encounters a Spoon River Anthology*? He is, 
of course, shaken to his foundations. He has 
found, beside his dwarf Japanese garden, a foot- 
print which looks colossal merely because it is 
human. It signifies, for him, a world which is 
only too bewilderingly huge, a world which in his 
secluded course of refinement on refinement he had 
altogether forgotten as perhaps containing the po- 
tentials of poetry. His first reaction is an almost 
stupefied realization of the minuteness and deli- 
cacy of his own work. His heart sinks: he sur- 
veys this new thing with a mixture of admiration 
and terror. "If the world likes this, what can it 
find in me*?" But habit and determination come 
speedily enough to his rescue, he needn't have 
been afraid for himself. His vanity has been 
growing too long and too sturdily to be so easily 
overthrown. And his theory of art which of 
course is antithetical to that behind the Spoon 
River Anthology is complete. 



SCEPTICISMS 

IV 

The stage, then, is nicely set for one of 
those little aesthetic altercations which give 
poets reputations as pugilists. Our poet writes 
an article on the Spoon River Anthology. 
Will it be an unbiassed article 1 ? Hardly. 
Too many things are at stake for him. The 
article will be honest enough: there will be 
no pretence about it, he will not conceal the fact 
that he admires the book tremendously, or that 
he thinks it contains certain of the qualities of 
greatness. But it will not be unbiassed. Di- 
rectly or indirectly, from start to finish, no matter 
how far it may appear to be from the subject, it 
will be an impeachment of the artistic methods 
of Spoon River Anthology and a defence of the 
methods of the Imagist. The degree of intensity 
with which this will be done, and the degree of 
candour, will vary. Our poet is faced with alterna- 
tives. Perhaps his own convictions and course are 
slightly modified by the apparition. In this case 
he will admit the brilliance of it, but point out 
how much better it might have been had its quali- 
ties of vigour and incisiveness been more richly 
fused with the qualities of luminosity, delicacy, 



APOLOGIA 

and precision. He has found a new ideal : a com- 
bination of divers new qualities with his own. 
This is a combination of which, as a matter of 
fact, he had always been capable; but, quite by 
accident, he has never till now perceived it. . . 
On the other hand, if our Imagist is a little more 
limited as to adaptability, if he feels that the 
qualities of Spoon River will always be some- 
what alien to him as an artist (though he may ap- 
preciate them as a reader) two courses of action 
are open to him. The first will be to ignore 
Spoon River completely. It will be considered 
coarse and artless, its success temporary. He will 
be quite sincere in this opinion. Or, on the other 
hand, one can conceive him, just as sincerely, 
lifting his voice in praise of Spoon River, in the 
belief that the success of so different a type of 
work will hardly affect his own ; and reserving his 
animosity for something a little more dangerously 
on his own ground. 



It begins to be seen how complex is this life- 
and-death struggle among the poets. Our 
Imagist is only one imaginary case. When 

D93 



SCEPTICISMS 

we recall that every poet is at bottom just as self- 
centred, just as determined to achieve and per- 
petuate a sort of pre-eminence for the poetic meth- 
ods which his temperament, or sensibility, has 
forced upon him, we see into what a pandiabo- 
lorum we have strayed. We see also how much 
we must be prepared to discount anything that 
these amiable creatures start to tell us about art. 
Be they never so entertaining, be they never so 
grave and polite to their rivals, rest assured there 
will always be concealed somewhere a mortal sting. 
Some poets believe in employing the sting with 
candour and gusto, some advocate that literary 
executions should be performed with an exquisite- 
ness of tact, that the lethal weapon should not so 
often be bullet or bludgeon, or even a moonlit 
blade, but rather the serpent in a bed of roses, a 
poisoned perfume. One should not necessarily, 
I think, accuse the latter class of poets of being 
hypocritical. The method they choose is no indi- 
cation of any timidity, they have no fear of vio- 
lence, nor would it displease them to see their 
enemies go down under good red blows; no, if they 
choose the subtler and more Machiavellian method 
it will be because they believe it to be the more 
efficient, simply. "See," they seem to say, "how 



APOLOGIA 

essentially good-natured, how candid and sweet 
we are ! Could any one, under the circumstances, 
believe what we say of X to be anything but the 
most dispassionate aesthetic truth*?" Yes, this 
method has its advantages, as I have found. I 
used to be fond of the good old-fashioned sandbag. 
Miss Lowell once rebuked me for this : she warned 
me that I might become known as a "knocker." 
I thought she was wrong; but since then she has 
published "Tendencies in Modern American 
Poetry," and I see that she is right. The sandbag 
is too clumsy. And silence, as Ezra Pound can 
testify, is just as effective. 



VI 

The situation, then, reveals itself as one to 
curdle the blood. Who is to be trusted*? Who 
will tell us what to like 4 ? Who will say "this is 
false, this is true, this is bad, this is good'"? Who 
is there whom we can follow with soft-eyed confi- 
dence into the silences of the arcana*? The 
answer, as should have been foreseen, is "No one." 
We are all unreliable, all grinding our own axes. 
About a good many things, things which do not 
too directly concern us, we can tell you the un- 



SCEPTICISMS 

varnished truth. We may be pretty reliable on 
matters of aesthetic fact most of us would prob- 
ably tell you that too many sibilants in the same 
line are to be avoided, that vowel sounds can be 
combined so as to make a very pleasant harmony 
(an art which many poets neglect), that "The 
Man with a Hoe" contains a good idea but is a 
lifelessly written and mediocre poem. But the 
instant we go beyond simple universals, distrust 
us! You can be sure that consciously or uncon- 
sciously we are setting out to poison whatever 
springs we believe will flow down to posterity. 
We are determined to give those waters a tinge 
of our own. Every one of us is secretly afraid 
that unless we do this we are doomed to oblivion. 
Miss Lowell's "Tendencies in Modern American 
Poetry" says very little of "Men, Women, and 
Ghosts," or "Sword Blades and Poppy Seed," or 
"Can Grande's Castle" : it is an opera in which 
the prima donna's voice is heard off-stage only 
and fleetingly. But it is none the less Miss 
Lowell who is the heroine of that book, and it 
is Miss Lowell's poetry which that book ingen- 
uously and richly praises. Mr. Untermeyer's 
book, in the same way, is an oblique panegyric of 
Untermeyer: a quite deliciously nai've glorifica- 



APOLOGIA 

tion of the temperament with which he finds him- 
self endowed. How could it be otherwise? We 
are not really surprised at discovering this, we 
should only be really surprised if we came across 
a case to the contrary, if we found Miss Lowell, in 
a fury of self-abasement, making an immolation 
of her own works before the altar of Ella Wheeler 
Wilcox, or Mr. Untermeyer forswearing poetry 
for ever after reading T. S. Eliot's "Sweeney 
Among the Nightingales." I exaggerate the 
point for the sake of emphasis. I do not mean 
to suggest that both Miss Lowell and Mr. Unter- 
meyer do not very often, momentarily, escape the 
prisons of their temperaments and pay their re- 
spects to strains in contemporary poetry which 
they feel to be inimical to their own. What I do 
mean is that if you examine carefully the writings 
of any poet-critic you will find, a trace here and 
a trace there, the gradual emergence of a self- 
portrait; and one which is only too apt to be 
heroic size. 

VII 

This relativism dogs us even into the lair of 
the professional critic, the critic of poetry who is 
not himself a poet. In the magic pool of art 



SCEPTICISMS 

what is it but the flattering image of himself that 
the critic parts the leaves to see"? What indeed 
else can he see? We only perceive those things 
to which we are attuned ; and no matter therefore 
how fine we spin a logic in defence of our tastes, 
all we do is subtilize the net of our temperament, 
the snare of our imperious desires, from which we 
are never destined to escape. We face here a dis- 
heartening determinism, we look across the abyss 
that lies between one individual and another, an 
abyss over which it seems almost impossible to 
communicate, and it begins to seem as if we should 
have to take refuge in that sort of aesthetic solip- 
sism which, rightly or wrongly, we associate with 
Benedetto Croce and Professor Spingarn. If our 
tastes are mathematically determined by the sen- 
sibilities and temperaments with which we are 
born, and if any logic of aesthetics which we con- 
struct must therefore be mathematically deter- 
mined by our tastes, of what use is any such logic 
of aesthetics? Of what use is it to talk of 
aesthetic values? Where all is relative, who will 
dare assume for himself the role of the absolute? 
Who has the courage to say, in these circum- 
stances, "My taste is better than yours, and I have 
these reasons for it "? 



APOLOGIA 

To the last question the answer is simple: we 
all have. Our self assurances are sublime. 
What is a trifle like aesthetic determinism*? We 
know what we like, and we know that what we 
like is the best. What results from this, of course, 
is the feral competition among critics and poet 
critics which I have been discussing: it is the al- 
most total absence of standard weights and meas- 
ures which makes it possible. Success will be 
gauged, of course, by the size of the audience 
which we are able to attract and hold, the number 
of books we are able to sell. If art is a form of 
community expression, a kind of glorified com- 
munication (to quote Mr. Untermeyer) then it is 
clear enough, is it not, that at the present moment 
the best poets we have are Robert W. Service and 
Ella Wheeler Wilcox. But I hear already in- 
jured cries from other quarters. There are poets, 
I dare say, who will have the audacity to tell us 
that the figures should be reversed (such is the 
ingenuity of human pride) and that the poet who 
sells one hundred and nineteen copies of his book 
is really more successful than the poet who sells 
one hundred thousand. The audience, they will 
say, should be an intelligent audience, not 
merely numerous, and it should show a dispo- 

[25: 



SCEPTICISMS 

sition to be cumulative, in increasing ratio, after 
fifty years. 

And perhaps they are right. Perhaps, after all, 
this is the only sort of aesthetic decision we can 
come to; this gradual and massive decision of the 
slow generations, this magnificently leisurely 
process of accretion and refinement, particle by 
particle, century by century. 



VIII 

But this fact contains a ray of hope for us. 
Massive decisions like this are objective facts, 
and may well therefore be food for the behaviour- 
ist psychologist or the Freudian. If in the long 
run humanity prefers this or that sort of art, it 
should be possible to find the reasons for this, 
to say eventually just what chords of human van- 
ity are thereby exquisitely and cajolingly played 
upon. Perhaps we shall be able to determine, in 
relation to great social masses, the law of aesthetic 
fatigue which precipitates those changes in taste 
which we call "literary movements" or "revolts." 
It may even become possible, at a given moment, 
to predict a new era of "realism" or "idealism." 
Or to predict, for that matter, if social changes go 



APOLOGIA 

far enough, the legal proscription of certain forms 
of art the romantic, for instance*? Or the death 
of art altogether. 

IX 

These speculations, however, are a little fright- 
ening, and I leave them to the psychologists, who, 
I do not doubt, will give those of us who are poets 
frights enough on this score before we die. For 
the present it will suffice to point out that since 
in the sphere of aesthetics all is relative, or for 
each new generation, at any rate, relatively rela- 
tive; and since this is particularly true just now, 
when experiment and innovation are so common 
in the arts, and give us so often work which can- 
not in any completeness be compared with works 
given to us by the past; it will be plain enough 
that a large part of the success of any such innova- 
tor or experimenter will depend on his own skill 
and persistence in making himself heard. This, 
at any rate, right or wrong, is his fixed idea. It 
is the fixed idea of pretty nearly every poet now 
writing in this country. We may pretend, some- 
times, to be indifferent to our destinies, but at 
bottom it is a matter of considerable concern to 
us whether we can get our books published by Z. 



SCEPTICISMS 

rather than by Q., or whether, having been pub- 
lished, they are favourably reviewed by the New 
York Times, The New Republic, The Dial, or 
what not. Not that we value the opinions of 
these journals how perfectly idiotic they can be 
we wisely perceive when, as not infrequently, they 
presume to tell us what bad poets we are, or even, 
in their incredible blindness, ignore us altogether. 
But they command audiences, and we ourselves 
wish to command audiences. If we are con- 
demned to be among those gems of purest ray 
serene which the dark unfathomed caves of ocean 
bear, we shall know how to find, ingeniously, a 
proud solace for that solitude; but we prefer 
do not be deceived by us for a moment a well- 
lighted shop-window on Maiden Lane. And we 
make this preference sufficiently manifest, I think, 
by the dignified haste with which we accept any 
invitation to read or lecture, and the apparent 
inexhaustibility with which we are able to review 
books, particularly those of our rivals. It is a 
cut-throat competition, a survival of the fittest. 
We lose no opportunity to praise our own sort of 
work, or to condemn that sort which we consider 
dangerous. 



APOLOGIA 



The reader now perceives, I think, what he 
ought to expect of me. I am no exception to the 
rule. My own book is, in sum, just as clearly an 
ideograph of Aiken as "Tendencies in Modern 
American Poetry" is of Amy Lowell or "The New 
Era in American Poetry" is of Untermeyer. The 
papers that compose it were, almost all of them, 
reviews of books, and they stand pretty much as 
they were originally written. They represent my 
own particular attempt to urge the poetic currents 
of the day in a direction that might be favourable 
to me. I make no real apology for this : I merely 
maintain that I only do what all poets do. If 
pressed by some one seriously well-disposed to- 
wards me to admit some however tiny element of 
disinterestedness or altruism, I would probably, 
like every other poet-critic, confess that my sym- 
pathies are, perhaps, just a trifle broader and more 
generous than the average. . . . By which I would 
mean, subconsciously, that I merely carry my de- 
fence-reactions a little further afield. 

I could, to be sure, have rewritten these papers 
in such a way as to have made a plausibly 
integrated unit of them . I could have divided 



SCEPTICISMS 

my book neatly into chapters on Realism, or 
Romanticism, or Vers Libre, or The Holophrastic 
Method ; and I could have mentioned, for the sake 
of sales, every poet in the Cumulative Book Index. 
But to cover, as it were, all the ground, has never 
been my purpose as a reviewer, and I do not see 
why it should be now. My intention, in these 
papers, is to provoke and to stimulate: to single 
out for a certain careful casualness of illumina- 
tion, among so many and such varied aspects, only 
those facets of the poetic tendencies of the day 
which are, for one reason or another, suggestive. 
In that sense the book will be found, perhaps, to 
compose a sort of unit, or comprise a gamut. 
That it contains no studies of such poets as Robert 
Frost or Edwin Arlington Robinson, poets whom 
I highly esteem, and whom I often have occasion 
to mention, is partly accidental, and partly be- 
cause the works of both poets are conspicuous, in 
the contemporary medley, for precision and finish, 
and lack the tentativeness and uncertainty which 
provide for the critic his most seductive problems. 
For these omissions, and for the inconsistencies 
which indicate like milestones the tortuous course 
of my growth, and which the shrewd reader will 
discover for himself, I, therefore, make no apology. 



APOLOGIA 

The inconsistencies I could, indeed, have eradi- 
cated. They remain because it seems to me that 
in so relative a world they may have a kind of 
value. One is least sure of one's self, some- 
times, when one is most positive. 



II 

The Mechanism of Poetic 
Inspiration 

THERE is a widespread notion in the pub- 
lic mind that poetic inspiration has some- 
thing mysterious and translunar about it, 
something which altogether escapes human analy- 
sis, which it would be almost sacrilege for analysis 
to touch. The Romans spoke of the poet's divine 
afflatus, the Elizabethans of his fine frenzy. And 
even in our own day critics, and poets themselves, 
are not lacking who take the affair quite as seri- 
ously. Our critics and poets are themselves 
largely responsible for this, they are a sentimen- 
tal lot, even when most discerning, and cannot 
help indulging, on the one hand, in a reverential 
attitude toward the art, and, on the other, in a 
reverential attitude toward themselves. Little of 
the scientific spirit which has begun to light the 
literary criticism of France, for example, has man- 
ifested itself in America. Our criticism is still a 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

rather primitive parade of likes and dislikes : there 
is little inquiry into psychological causes. 

Meanwhile, if the literary folk have been dron- 
ing, the scientists have been busy. Most critics, 
at least, are familiar already with the theory of 
Sigmund Freud, that poetry, like the dream, is an 
outcome of suppression, a release of complexes. 
To the curious-minded this, however erratic or in- 
adequate, was at any rate a step in the right direc- 
tion. It started with the admirable predicate that 
after all poetry is a perfectly human product, and 
that therefore it must play a specific part in the 
human animal's functional needs. It at once 
opened to the psychologist (amateur as well as 
professional !), the entire field of literature, and in 
a new light: he was invited to behold here not 
merely certain works of art, but also a vast amount 
of documentary evidence, in the last analysis 
nai've, as to the functioning of the human mind, 
in other words, so many confessions. 

In the beginning, ludicrous mistakes and exag- 
gerations were made. This was to be expected. 
Freud himself has steadily modified his position, 
as was bound to happen in the early and neces- 
sarily empirical stage of a new psychological 
method. There have been others, too, who have 



SCEPTICISMS 

gone forward with the method, in a purely objec- 
tive way, by trial and error. And the most inter- 
esting of them from the literary viewpoint is 
Nicolas Kostyleff, whose book, "Le Mecanisme 
Cerebrale de la Pensee," was published in Paris 
within a few years. In addition to much in this 
book which is of an interest purely psychological, 
there are also successive chapters dealing with po- 
etic inspiration, the poetic methods of Victor 
Hugo, and the method of the novelist. M. Kos- 
tyleff does not pretend to have solved any of these 
questions. He is content with indicating a direc- 
tion, he does not attempt to delimit. He offers 
suggestions and observations that should be of tre- 
mendous value to the literary critic. 

M. Kostyleff, in the chapter devoted to poetic 
inspiration, takes as his starting-point a belief that 
Freud's explanation of it as due entirely to hidden 
complexes, largely erotic, is insufficient. Certain 
types of poetry, notably those that approximate 
wish-thinking, clearly indicate such an origin. 
But what are we to do with the vast amount of 
poetry which cannot so conveniently be fitted into 
this category, poetry, for example, which does 
not in any obvious sense appear to be the satisfac- 
tion of either erotic or merely aesthetic needs: 

C343 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

poetry, indeed, which would appear to belong to 
a cerebral rather than a merely emotional plane"? 
M. Kostyleff here concludes, it appears wisely, 
that after all the writing of poetry is, like speech 
itself, a purely cerebral affair: and that it is not 
the result of a discharge of an excess of emotion in 
the poet so much as a cerebral reaction to external 
stimuli. This conclusion he at once connects with 
a theory, developed in earlier chapters, of verbo- 
motor reactions: a theory that words, like other 
sensory impressions derived from contact with 
reality, are stored in the mind, not discretely, but 
in chains of association, where they become uncon- 
scious, and appear to be forgotten ; but that upon a 
given stimulus these chains of associated words be- 
gin automatically unravelling, become again con- 
scious. 

With this theory of poetic inspiration in mind, 
M. Kostyleff approached various contemporary 
French poets and asked them to divulge the secret 
of their methods of composition. Among these 
poets were Madame de Noailles, M. Robert de 
Montesquiou, M. Haraucourt, M. Abel Bonnard, 
and M. Fernand Gregh. The explanations of 
these poets seemed at first sight to be rather di- 
vergent. Some wrote rapidly, some slowly. 



SCEPTICISMS 

Some conceived their poems in terms of visual line 
and space, some aurally in terms of music. Some 
started with the final or key line and wrote up to 
or around it, and some sketched rapidly in a sort 
of improvisation, later filling in and altering. 
But one fact began to emerge which seemed to be 
true of all: the fact that the initial impulse was 
almost always due to an external stimulus of some 
sort which effected, in a purely cerebral way, an 
automatic discharge of verbal associations, not 
necessarily attended by an excess of emotion. It 
became also apparent that the poets themselves 
were to a considerable extent aware of this. They 
sought to document themselves on subjects which 
appealed to them, so as to enrich their associations ; 
and, further, they endeavoured to surround them- 
selves with objects in some way related to the 
chosen theme, or to adopt, if possible, a suggestive 
environment. 

This is already, it is clear, a sufficiently shrewd 
blow at the usual theory of poetic inspiration, that 
it is due to a tempest of emotion in the poet. But 
M. KostylefF makes it even shrewder. On exam- 
ining carefully the work of these various poets he 
found it to be almost invariably true that the emo- 
tional value of the completed poem far outweighed 

[36] 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

the emotional value of the original idea. The lat- 
ter, in fact, frequently became quite insignificant. 
This would certainly indicate that the original im- 
pulse is merely a slight spring, which, once re- 
leased, sets in motion a rather imposing engine. 
In fact, it was found in many cases that the or- 
iginal idea was either lost sight of entirely as the 
poem developed or actually contradicted. The 
explanation of this is simple, if the basic theory is 
correct. For if it is true that verbal reflexes 
function in associated chains, then we should ex- 
pect the discharge of verbal reflexes to be self- 
generating, one set of associations to lead 
directly to another. No sooner does one flight of 
ideas come to an end than some overtone in it 
awakens further associations and another flight be- 
gins. And this was precisely what M. Kostyleff 
found to be true in his examination of many of 
these poems, particularly in the first drafts of 
them, with the many omissions, the many leaps to 
what at first glance might appear to be unrelated 
ideas. The completed poems, then, appeared to be 
not so much orderly developments of the original 
theme (which indeed in most instances could not 
alone offer the necessary amount of associations to 
account for the wealth or emotional power of the 



SCEPTICISMS 

poem) as an accumulation of successive waves of 
verbo-motor discharge due to association, each 
rushing farther from the starting-point. In this 
manner we get a finished poem which far outruns, 
in emotional weight, the initial impulse. Of Mr. 
Bonnard's "Le Chant du Coq a L'Aurore," for ex- 
ample, M. Kostyleff remarks: "It is evident that 
this inspiration is due in part to a profound emo- 
tion before the beauties of nature, but the verbal 
discharge certainly surpasses it in extent, and can 
only be explained by the pleasure of renewing it. 
. . . And, everything considered, the emotion and 
the reaction to it are not equivalent. This ex- 
plains also why in other cases the emotion can be 
slight, almost purely intellectual. In the preced- 
ing poem it is an emotion such as one feels, or can 
feel, after pleasure, which stimulates the imagina- 
tion. ... It is, before all, a play of cerebral re- 
flexes ... it is not an equivalent of emotion 
alone. It would never have become what it is if 
it had not had at its disposal great richnesses of 
memory, verbal and visual; which permit [the 
poet] to prolong the emotion, to renew it, and to 
communicate it to others." Again, of "Douleur" 
by Comtesse de Noailles, he says: "The feeling is 
always tender, but it awakens sometimes an ex- 

C383 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

alted thought, sometimes a pessimistic thought. 
This proves once more that inspiration is not to be 
confused with the emotion which causes it. We 
saw it, in Bonnard, outstrip the emotional stimu- 
lus, we see it now in contradiction with itself; and 
that alone can explain the sustained flight of lit- 
erary creation. If poetry were only an emotional 
discharge, it would be very much less complex 
than it is. In reality the emotional shock finds in 
the poet preformed cerebral mechanisms : mechan- 
isms preformed by study, by meditation, by life. 
These are chains of reflexes which are not them- 
selves kept in the brain, but the paths of which are 
traced there and easily reproduced. In a poet 
these reproductions are particularly easy, and the 
chains very numerous. The cerebral reflexes, be- 
coming linked at the will of unforeseen connec- 
tions, draw him along beyond the emotional stim- 
ulus. . . . Indeed, what matters the extent of the 
emotional power, since the principle does not lie 
there, but in the chains of cerebral reflexes, and 
since the latter can be set off by a stimulus wholly 
cerebral 1 ? . . . This obliges us to admit at last 
that poetic inspiration has two sources : the sensi- 
bility of the poet, and the preformed mechanisms 
of verbal reactions. These last we understand in 

C39] 



SCEPTICISMS 

the widest sense of the term, with the images to 
which they attach themselves, as also with quite 
precise qualities of rhythm and vocal harmony. 
A great poet is recognized not only because he is 
sensitive and vibrant, but also by the wholly per- 
sonal qualities of this mechanism. And that is 
not a word of simple meaning. The personal 
qualities consist in the evocation of impressions 
which are not banal, and in the expression of them 
in a rhythm and sonority peculiar to themselves. 
. . . This formula seems to be important, espe- 
cially for our time, when there are so many good 
poets and so few great ones. ... It is time to 
establish clearly in the eyes of the literary critic 
that to be a true poet it is not sufficient to have 
emotivity, internal fever, nor even a certain rich- 
ness of cerebral images ; it is also necessary to have 
a gift of verbo-motor discharge which is personal. 
For objective psychology, this presents something 
quite precise, the mental images being the cerebral 
reflexes directly associated with those of hearing 
and speech. This association is not innate: it is 
formed little by little from the first years of life. 
What is innate in the poet is a certain refinement 
of the sensorial organs. Seeing and hearing much 
as other children do, he must retain more memo- 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

ries, and better selected impressions. Each of 
these traces the path of a reflex; the visual and 
auditory reflexes are associated with definite verbal 
reactions; and at the time when his nervous sys- 
tem becomes rich enough to produce sensorial dis- 
charges, he finds himself already gifted with what 
we have just called the preformed mechanism of 
verbal reactions." In this connection M. Kosty- 
lefF points out that, as we should expect, poets are 
precocious as children, read omnivorously at an 
early age, and thus store up rich deposits of verbo- 
motor reactions, rich not only as regards sensorial 
impressions, but also as regards prosodic arrange- 
ment. And as evidence that the mature poet is 
not above enriching his vocabulary by conscious 
effort he goes rather exhaustively into a survey of 
the methods by which Victor Hugo was accus- 
tomed to document himself for literary creation, 
and into the rather elaborate system of auto-sug- 
gestion (through choice of environment, books, 
mode of life) by which M. Robert de Montes- 
quiou induces in himself the proper frame of mind 
for work. And at the end of his chapter he con- 
cludes : 

To be a great poet it is not at all necessary to have a 
temperament as pronounced as that of a Musset or a 

[41] 



SCEPTICISMS 

Baudelaire. A delicate taste, if it be personal, may also 
serve as a basis for poetic inspiration. But it is the 
essential condition for this that the specific sensibility of 
the individual should determine for him the formation of 
an adequate mechanism of verbal reactions. . . . The 
number of parlour poets increases, and many of them 
lack neither emotion nor energy nor sonority of expres- 
sion. In what do they fail of being true poets? The 
study we have just made directly answers this question. 
They lack a personal mechanism of verbal reactions. 
This mechanism is part of inspiration. It is formed 
long before the moment of discharge, from all that the 
poet reads or hears, and when the moment arrives, it 
begins to act without his being able to say whence the 
words come to him. Every one uses words, most words 
can be made into verses, but the more or less personal 
character of the latter distinguishes clearly those which 
are only an imitation, an echo of the poetic harmonies 
of the past, from the "sovereign verses" which leap from 
the mind of the poet as the product of a personal faculty 
for storing up and grouping verbal reactions. . . . Ob- 
jective psychology finds here a very important contribu- 
tion. To the factor revealed by Freud, (the stimulus 
in the revival of psychic complexes, ) we see added 
another having an equally precise place in the organism, 
an extraordinarily extended chain of verbal reactions. 

M. Kostyleff does not presume, naturally, in 
reaching this conclusion, to have cleared up the 
entire problem, he is probably as aware as any 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

one that he has made only a beginning. For at 
once further baffling questions arise. To begin 
with, though we can subscribe without reluctance 
to the main tenet of M. KostylefFs thesis that once 
set in motion a flight of poetic creations is to some 
extent self-renewing, ramifying by association 
from one group of reflexes to another ; and though 
we cannot help being struck by the plausibility of 
his conclusion that the sole difference between the 
imitative and the original poet is in the more per- 
sonal quality of the latter's mechanism of verbal 
reactions, it is clear that in this matter of the 
"personal quality" lies something which, though 
of very great importance from the literary view- 
point, is left rather vague. It will be recalled 
that M. Kostyleff makes a good deal of the fact 
that the poet, both instinctively in childhood and 
deliberately in maturity, seeks by reading to en- 
large his vocabulary and the richness of his pro- 
sodic sense. But of course the imitative poet does 
this quite as much as the original one : if not more. 
His stores of verbo-motor reactions are acquired, 
presumably, in quite the same sort of way. 
Where, then, does the difference arise? In what 
manner does this store become, as M. Kostyleff 
says, more closely related in the one case than in 

C43H 



SCEPTICISMS 

the other to the poet's specific sensibility*? It is 
at least questionable whether this distinction is 
not a false one. For, in a broad sense, no individ- 
ual's store of verbo-motor reactions can be other 
than specifically personal to him. This would 
seem to force our search for a distinction backward 
one degree to the matter of sensibility itself. It 
would suggest a revision of M. Kostyleff's state- 
ment that imitative poets "lack a personal mechan- 
ism of verbal reactions" to a statement that, 
though fully equipped with such a mechanism, 
(many such poets have, even among literary folk, 
exceptional vocabularies) they lack any peculiar- 
ity of sensibility: they do not extend the field of 
our consciousness in any new direction. This 
would in turn indicate that M. Kostyleff puts un- 
due emphasis on the merely linguistic aspect of the 
poet's function, with a faint, though perhaps un- 
intentional, implication that language determines 
thought rather more than thought determines lan- 
guage. But may not a poet be great even if there 
be nothing remarkably original or bizarre about his 
work with respect to language or style, great by 
reason of the poetic content, or thought, rather 
than for verbal or prosodic brilliance'? . . . This 
brings us to the fact that there are two great ten- 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

dencies in poetry, two kinds of poetic value ; and 
the classification seems to obtain for other arts as 
well. In one of them the emphasis is on the ex- 
ternals, on form, style, colour, texture, with the 
intention of producing a sensorial effect as bril- 
liant as possible; in the other the emphasis is on 
the content, and the style is made secondary, a 
transparent glass through which one may most 
perfectly see. Clearly, it is on poetry of the for- 
mer rather than of the latter class that M. Kosty- 
leff has based his conclusions : the lyric and decora- 
tive rather than the philosophical and narrative. 
For it is obvious at once that in poetry of the lat- 
ter class the direction of the poem would not be 
dictated by the automatic unfolding of associated 
verbal chain reflexes, but, on the contrary, that 
the verbal mechanisms themselves would be di- 
rected throughout by the original poetic theme. . . . 
If it is true, therefore, that M. KostylefT has 
thrown an extremely interesting light on one me- 
chanical aspect of literary creation, he clearly fails, 
indeed he does not attempt, to bring this aspect of 
it into relation with the aspect studied by Freud. 
We are shown parts of the machine, but not the 
machine in motion. What, after all, is the com- 
pelling power at the bottom of poetic creation"? 



SCEPTICISMS 

If it were merely a matter of mechanical reactions, 
on a verbal plane, blind and accidental, it is obvi- 
ous that one experience quite as much as another 
would cause a poetic precipitate in the poet's mind. 
But we know this not to be true. It is apparent 
that some selective principle is at work: some af- 
fective principle, or pleasure principle, which vi- 
tally concerns the poet. He reacts more acutely 
and more richly to some stimuli than to others ; and 
even among these reactions he exercises a rigid sys- 
tem of suppression and selection. To be sure this 
power is self -generating, once started, by accre- 
tion the affects intensify and perpetuate them- 
selves, leaving always a richer deposit of associa- 
tions, a greater capacity for prolonged cerebral re- 
sponse. But we must not forget that this selec- 
tive principle has its beginning somewhere, that 
it is universal, that it arises in accordance with 
some need. Every man, as it has become com- 
monplace to remark, is in some degree a poet. In 
consequence it is clear that in dealing with poetry 
we are dealing with something which plays some 
specific and organic part in the life of man. This, 
in default of any more plausible suggestion, brings 
us back to the theory of Freud. It is to some deep 
hunger, whether erotic or not, or to some analogous 



POETIC INSPIRATION 

compulsion, that we must look for the source of 
the power that sets in motion the delicate mechan- 
ism, on another plane, which M. Kostyleff has be- 
gun to illuminate for us. It is clear that this is 
not merely a sexual hunger, nor an aesthetic hun- 
ger, nor an ethical hunger, though all may have 
their place in it. ... Is it merely in general the 
hunger of the frustrate (which we all are) for 
richer experience? 

However we answer that question, it is certain 
that such objective studies of literature as this of 
M. Kostyleff indicate for us a new method in lit- 
erary criticism. With the clouds of myth and 
mystery blown away, we begin to see more clearly ; 
we shall be better able to understand and to dis- 
criminate. And if we are thus made to see that 
literature plays a vital functional part in our lives, 
we must eventually begin to value our literature, 
more consciously, in the degree in which it fulfils 
that function. 



C473 



Ill 

Poetry in America 

1917 

LIKE the poor, Mr. Braithwaite's "Anthol- 
ogy" is always with us : a year passes, an- 
other myriad or so of magazines falls 
from the press, and once more Mr. Braithwaite has 
scoured them all, and gives us the result in two 
hundred odd pages. Examine, for instance, the 
Anthology for 1916. What new thing can be 
said of it 1 ? It does not change. It is six pages 
shorter than the year before; it selects for special 
praise only fifteen, instead of thirty-five, books of 
verse, both of which abridgments are for the bet- 
ter. But whether through inability or unwilling- 
ness, Mr. Braithwaite seems no nearer learning 
that there can be little excuse for an anthology 
which does not select. Once more we have the 
clarion preface (a clarion uncertainly played) pro- 
claiming that the present era of American poetry 
is to be compared with the Elizabethan and other 

C483 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

great eras ; a solemn catalogue of names held illus- 
trious; and once more the verse itself follows on 
this with a harshly negative answer. 

Is there any use in merely abusing Mr. Braith- 
waite for the many inaccuracies and hasty super- 
ficialities in his preface for his cool assertion that 
Mr. Pound is the idol of those nimble acrobats 
who whirl and tumble through the pages of 
"Others"; that Poetry is Mr. Pound's organ of 
radicalism; that Mr. Kreymborg is the one poet 
produced by the "Others" group, or Miss Amy 
Lowell the one poet produced by the Imagist 
group ; or that Masters, Frost, Oppenheim, Robin- 
son, and Miss Branch dominate each a group-ten- 
dency"? We have learned, I hope, to expect this 
sort of thing, and to discount it. We know that 
the affair is not so simple as this. We watch Mr. 
Braithwaite sliding over the smooth surface, and 
smile. But none the less, if we are to help poetry 
at all in this wilderness, we cannot rest content 
with amusement. Mr. Braithwaite is a standing 
warning to us that we must keep our wits about 
us; if every word that falls from Mr. Braith- 
waite's lips is a pearl of eulogy, we on our part 
must be prepared to utter toads of censure. 

It is difficult to compare one of these anthologies 

C493 



SCEPTICISMS 

with another. The editor professes to see an im- 
provement, to be sure, but if there is any, it is 
unimportant. What we can say clearly is that 
this volume, like its predecessors, is for the most 
part filled with the jog-trot of mediocrity. One 
must wade through pages and pages of mawkish- 
ness, dulness, artificiality, and utter emptiness to 
come upon the simple dignity of Mr. Fletcher's 
"Lincoln" (marred by a faintly perfumed close), 
or the subdued, colloquial tenderness of Mr. 
Frost's "Home-Stretch," or the sinister pattern of 
"The Hill-Wife," or Miss Lowell's delicately im- 
agined "City of Falling Leaves." What else 
stands out"? Here and there are pleasant lines, 
stanzas, poems, but for the most part one gets 
an impression of amateurishness, of simply lines 
and lines and lines, all of them a little conscious 
of the fact that they are iambic, or dactylic, or ana- 
paestic, or trochaic, or prose, all of them a little 
uneasy about their rhymes, their ideas, or the ap- 
palling necessity of somehow coming to an end. 
Here we have poets who, with quaint solemnity, 
tell us of " minstrelsy as rich as wine, as sweet as 
oil," who "parley" with stars, or confess to having 
"tears of awful wonder" run "adown" their 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

cheeks, or describe the song of the swallows as 
their "spill," or proclaim themselves "cousin to 
the mud," or ask us to "list!", when they mean 
listen; and it is left to Mr. Untermeyer to reach 
the height of bathos in asking 

God, when the rosy world first learned to crawl 
About the floor of heaven, wert thou not proud? 

What is one to say to all this this inane falsify- 
ing and posturing, this infantile lack of humour or 
ordinary intelligence*? How does it happen that 
it is only a scant dozen times in the course of these 
184 pages that we find anything like a profound 
approach to the problems of our lives, or a serene 
and proportioned understanding of them, or a pas- 
sionate rebellion at them, or anything, in fact, but 
clutters of thin sentiment, foolishly expressed, and 
dusty concatenations of petty irrelevancies*? Is 
it Mr. Braithwaite's fault; or is it because we have 
nothing better to offer? Is there, then, any poetry 
being written in this country which we can hope- 
fully put beside the recent work of the English 
poets the work of Lascelles Abercrombie, Wil- 
frid Gibson, Walter de la Mare, or Masefield*? 
I think we can make an affirmative answer; and 



SCEPTICISMS 

in so doing, of course, we condemn at once the 
method employed by Mr. Braithwaite in the com- 
pilation of his yearly anthology. 

For, as has already been said many times to Mr. 
Braithwaite, it is comparatively seldom that any 
of our magazines print poetry. Of verse, to be 
sure, free or formal, they print any amount: 
they are stifled with it. In some measure they 
have tried to respond to the wave of enthusiasm for 
poetry which has risen in America during the last 
few years, but they have proved pathetically in- 
adequate. What, after all, could they do"? 
Magazines can thrive only by reaching the great- 
est possible number. And the one essential rule 
for reaching the greatest possible number is to hold 
fast to tradition, whether ethical or literary, to 
avoid anything even remotely in the nature of sub- 
version; or, if it becomes necessary through com- 
petition to advance, to advance with the utmost 
caution. The formal sonnet, sprinkled with 
"thou's" and "thee's" and exclamatory "O's," pre- 
ferably calling upon the spirit of a nation, or ad- 
dressed to a dead poet, or anything else dead, is 
the supreme gift. The exalted ode is a close sec- 
ond. And after these come the numberless hosts 
of the ephemeral sentimental, all that we have 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

been taught to consider good and true, brave and 
sweet. 

It becomes apparent, therefore, that if we are 
to find poetry in America today we must look for 
it outside the magazines in books. And this, of 
course, is where we do find it, such as it is. There 
can be no question that had Mr. Braithwaite com- 
posed his anthology from books, instead of from 
magazines, it could have been one thousand per 
cent better. It is not certain that Mr. Braithwaite 
could have done it, to be sure, for Mr. Braithwaite 
is not by endowment a critic: the evidence before 
us in this "Anthology" for 1916 is dumbly to the 
effect that Mr. Braithwaite is incredibly undis- 
criminating. What else can we say of the man 
who in his list of the fifteen best books of the year 
omits Fletcher's "Goblins and Pagodas," Mase- 
field's "Good Friday," Masters's "The Great 
Valley," de la Mare's "The Listeners," William 
H. Davies's "Poems," the second "Imagist Anthol- 
ogy," Kreymborg's "Mushrooms," and Sandburg's 
"Chicago Poems," while he includes the very infe- 
rior "Songs and Satires" of Masters, "War and 
Laughter" by James Oppenheim, "Harvest 
Moon" by Josephine Preston Peabody, and other 
works by Bliss Carman, Adelaide Crapsey, Amelia 

[53] 



SCEPTICISMS 

Burr, Charles Wharton Stork, and Rabindranath 
Tagore? This is the plainest sort of critical 
blindness. It is here not a question of being con- 
servative or radical it is a question of good taste. 
A study of these juxtapositions will make it only 
too clear. 

If we are to take seriously, therefore, Mr. 
Braithwaite's enthusiasms over contemporary 
American poetry, as expressed in his preface, and 
in his critical summaries at the end of his volume, 
we begin to realize that he has damaged his case 
at the outset by restricting himself to such verse as 
gets into the magazines. It must be obvious to 
any one that any such selection does our poets a 
serious injustice: it is not, and in the nature of 
things cannot be, fairly representative of our best. 
The basic principle is wrong. For that we have 
poets now who deserve to be taken seriously, even 
if they are not Shakespeares, there certainly can 
be far less question than there was even two years 
ago. Since 1913 how much has happened! In 
the autumn of 1914, Miss Lowell and Mr. Vachel 
Lindsay first made themselves clearly heard. In 
the spring of 1915, one after another, came the 
first "Imagist Anthology," Masters's "Spoon 
River," Frost's "North of Boston," Fletcher's "Ir- 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

radiations." And in 1916, a year in which for the 
first time in our literary history more volumes of 
poetry and drama were published than of any 
other class, we saw the publication of Fletcher's 
"Goblins and Pagodas," the second "Imagist An- 
thology," the "Others Anthology," Sandburg's 
"Chicago Poems," Kreymborg's "Mushrooms," 
Masters's "Songs and Satires" and "The Great 
Valley," Amy Lowell's "Men, Women, and 
Ghosts," Frost's "Mountain Interval," and Robin- 
son's "Man Against the Sky." Of all these, Ed- 
win Arlington Robinson is the only one who 
clearly reaches back into the period before 1914. 
Of the others, nearly all had been writing, and one 
or two had tentatively published ; but in the main 
they are poets who have reached their maturity 
since 1913. 

What are we to say of these poets, and of their 
poetry? No one, of course, can say finally, "this 
is good and will endure" ; or "this is bad and will 
perish." Any opinion must be personal, rooted 
in profound and for the most part unconscious 
predilections and prejudices, obscured by biases of 
friendship or the opposite, confused with questions 
of social, ethical, or philosophical character; and 
my own opinion, quite as much as Mr. Braith- 



SCEPTICISMS 

waite's, is a ganglion of just such factors, and just 
as much to be guarded against and discounted. 
But having made this candid confession of our all- 
too-humanness, let us be candid in our opinions 
also. 

To begin with, we must face squarely the un- 
pleasant fact that, both in and out of the public 
press, we have been very seriously overestimating 
the work of contemporary poets: enthusiasm for 
poetry, and an intense and long-suppressed desire 
to see it flourish in America, have played the deuce 
with our judgments. In too many cases the wish 
has been father to the thought. Not only have we 
been undiscriminating, applauded the false as 
loudly as the true, but we have persisted in a sort 
of wilful blindness to the many and obvious faults 
of even our best. Bad leadership, of course, has 
conduced to this. We have had no critics whom 
we could trust. Miss Monroe and Mr. Braith- 
waite, to both of whom we all owe more than we 
can say, have, when all is said and done, been 
better drum-bangers than critics. Both have been 
somewhat insular in outlook, intolerant of all that 
is a little alien to them, intolerant of each other, 
and somewhat amusingly determined to find 
"great" American poets. Mr. Kilmer and Mr. 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

Untermeyer, both ubiquitous reviewers, the more 
elusive because so many of their reviews have been 
unsigned, have been equally limited, intellectually, 
and have left always the savour of cult or clique 
in their pronouncements. Two critics we have 
who stand clear of ax-grinding and nepotism, 
who analyse sharply, who delight to use words as 
poniards Mr. Mencken of The Smart Set and 
Mr. Firkins of The Nation; but with these the 
misfortune is that they are essentially of the older 
order, and have an embarrassing tenderness for all 
that is sentimental, politely romantic, formal, eth- 
ically correct. The balance of power, therefore, 
has been with the praisers, with Miss Monroe, 
whose Poetry has manifested a tendency to be- 
come a sort of triumphal car for the poets of the 
West and Middle West, with Mr. Braithwaite, 
whose Transcript reviews have seemed at times 
to become a wholesale business in laurel wreaths, 
and with others, less fortunate in their power, of 
the same nature. And in consequence, even the 
most cautious of us have been in spite of ourselves 
somewhat infected by the prevailing idolatries. 
It has become habitual to accept, unpleasant to 
censure. When we criticize at all, we condemn 
utterly; when we praise, we sing panegyrics. 



SCEPTICISMS 

There has been no middle course of balanced and 
impartial analysis, no serene perspective, above 
all, no taste. It seems as if we have not been long 
enough civilized, as if there were too much still 
undigested, or indigestible, in our environment. 

We have therefore a group of myths among us, 
some or all of them conflicting, and sedulously en- 
couraged by the publishers. A vague notion is 
abroad that Frost, Masters, Robinson, Lindsay, 
Fletcher, Miss Lowell, and others still who have 
not been quite so successful, are, if not great poets, 
at any rate brilliantly close to it. Whether this 
is true or not need not at once concern us. What 
becomes important for us, in the circumstances, is 
to realize that if these poets are as commanding 
as we think them to be, it is time for us to stop 
spattering them with unmixed praise which we 
do under the quaint delusion that we are writing 
serious articles upon them and look at them, for 
once, with more of the scientist's eye, and less of 
the lover's. We need to remind ourselves that 
they are flesh and blood, as liable to failures and 
mistakes as ourselves, constantly and sometimes 
desperately struggling for a precarious foothold, 
sometimes driven to foolishness by the keenness of 
the competition, sometimes exhausted by it. 

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POETRY IN AMERICA 

What compels them to do what they do? What 
faults result from this, and what virtues'? What 
can we expect of them? This is the sort of ques- 
tion we should be getting ready to ask them. 

Turning upon them from this quarter, we 
should at once find them looking a little less im- 
posing. We should begin to see first of all one 
great and glaring characteristic of practically all 
American poets: that, though rich in invention, 
they are poor in art. Exceptions to this there are, 
notably, Edwin Arlington Robinson, who, per- 
haps, in other respects pays the penalty. But in 
the main that stigma touches them all. Most con- 
spicuous in the work of Mr. Masters and Miss 
Lowell, it is by no means restricted to them alone, 
few, if any, escape it. No clearer line of cleav- 
age divides contemporary American poetry from 
contemporary English : we may prefer the greater 
richness and variety of the American, its greater re- 
lentlessness in search of realities; but the instant 
we turn to the English we feel a certain distinction, 
a certain intellectual and aesthetic ease and free- 
dom, no matter on what plane whether in the 
clear lyrics of de la Mare and Hodgson and Da vies 
and Aldington, or the strange, powerful, almost la- 
boured psychological episodes of Gibson, or the 



SCEPTICISMS 

intellectual spaciousness and tortuous energy of 
Abercrombie. And this lack of distinction, this 
inability of our poets to make their inventions 
works of art, to speak with that single-toned 
authenticity which arises from perfect expression, 
constitutes the most serious menace against their 
possible survival. Mr. Frost is our most con- 
sistent performer, of course, we can place him 
over against the English poets akin to him without 
blushing. And Mr. Robinson, too, is in this re- 
spect dependable, though he tends to jingle, does 
not command the power or the lyric beauty of the 
others, and abuses his trick of veiled implications. 
After this, we are in the dark. Miss Lowell, 
Fletcher, Masters, have all done brilliant work 
in their kinds, but even the best of it is marred 
by strange artistic blindnesses. They cannot be 
counted upon. They write prose with one hand 
and poetry with the other, and half the time know 
not what they do. If one moment they select 
carefully, the next moment they empty cartloads. 
They seem for ever uncertain whether to sing or to 
talk, and consequently try sometimes to do both 
at once. 

The plain fact is that we have been passing 
through a period of ferment, a period of uncer- 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

tainty, experiment, transition. A great variety 
of intellectual energies has been simultaneously 
catalyzed by a great variety of stimuli, and the 
result inevitably has been chaos. Realists have 
sprung up, reverent as well as irreverent; roman- 
ticists have sprung up, radical as well as conven- 
tional; and in addition to these major groups have 
risen detached individuals difficult to classify, and 
other groups heterogeneously composed. Experi- 
ment is the order of the day. Desperation to say 
the last word, to go farthest, to dissolve tradition 
and principle in the most brilliant self -conscious- 
ness, has led to literary pranks and freaks without 
number. Occasionally this has borne good re- 
sults, more often it has merely startled. The 
bizarre has frequently been mistaken for the 
subtle; unselective treatment has been too often 
considered realism. The Imagists, straying too 
far in search of flowers of vividness and colour, 
have ended by losing themselves in a Plutonian 
darkness of unrelated sensory phenomena: they 
predicate a world of sharply separate entities 
without connective tissue of relationship, and, in 
addition, have sacrificed a large part of their power 
to convey this vision by their unwillingness or 
inability to heighten their readers' receptiveness 



SCEPTICISMS 

through playing upon it rhythmically. Members 
of the "Others" group (if Mr. Kreymborg will 
permit it to be so called) have sometimes seemed 
determined to revert to the holophrastic method of 
self-expression which antedated the evolution of 
analytical self-expression and language. At its 
worst, the result has been captivating nonsense; 
at its best, it gives us the peculiarly individual 
semi-poems of Wallace Stevens and Maxwell 
Bodenheim. 

This has been the background of rapid change 
and experimentation, extravagance, over-decora- 
tiveness, variety, and fearless entrance into the 
penetralia of life against which our major group 
of Frost, Masters, Fletcher, Amy Lowell, and 
Robinson have made themselves clear. They 
cannot be detached from that background. They 
are constantly modifying it, and being modified 
by it. A process of mutual protective colouration, 
of co-adaptation, is constantly going on. Where 
they fear, they imitate. In consequence we 
should expect to find the faults as well as the 
virtues of the background repeated in the pro- 
tagonists, and we do. With the exception of 
Mr. Frost (and even he has been slightly infected 
on the metrical side) and Mr. Robinson, our 

623 



POETRY IN AMERICA 

leading poets, one and all, seem to be writing with 
a constantly shifting set of values in mind : their 
eyes are on their audience and on their rival poets, 
but seldom if ever on eternal principles. The re- 
sult is a kaleidoscopic effect of shifting viewpoints, 
and it has become typical of our most typical poets 
that their work seems to proceed not from one cen- 
tre, but from many. Now it is lyric, now it is 
narrative, now dramatic, or philosophic, or psy- 
chological and as the mood fluctuates so does the 
vehicle chosen, from the most formal through suc- 
cessively more loosely organized modes to the 
gnomic prose of "Spoon River" or "The Ghosts of 
an Old House." Our poets have not quite found 
themselves. They are casting about for some- 
thing, they do not know what, and have not found 
it. And more than anything else it is this fact 
that gives their work that unfinished, hurried qual- 
ity, impatient and restless, rapidly unselective, 
which makes it appear, beside English work, lack- 
ing in distinction. Like the spring torrent, it is 
still muddy. 

It would be foolish to lament this fact. The 
Spring freshet has its compensations of power and 
fulness. It would be equally foolish to delude 
ourselves about it, to imagine that we are already 



SCEPTICISMS 

in the middle of a Golden Age; up to the present 
point it is, rather, an age of brass, of bombast 
and self-trumpetings. In the meantime, we can 
look to the future with considerable confidence 
that out of the present unprincipled chaos, rich 
in energies, we shall yet create a harmony. And 
we can take comfort in a relatively serene belief 
that Mr. Braithwaite's "Anthology of Magazine 
Verse" very seriously misrepresents or, rather, 
hardly represents at all the true state of poetry 
in America today. 



IV 

The Two Magics: Edgar Lee 
Masters 

MR. MASTERS is a welcome, though 
perplexing, figure in contemporary 
American poetry. Welcome, because 
along with Mr. Frost, and perhaps Mr. Robinson 
and Mr. Sandburg, he is a realist, and because a 
vigorous strain of realism is so profoundly needed 
in our literature today as indeed it has always 
been needed. Perplexing, because his relative 
importance, as posterity will see it, is so extraor- 
dinarily difficult to gauge. Of his welcome there 
can be no question. There has been a disposition 
among poets and critics of poetry during the last 
three years to assume that the most important 
changes, or revolutions, taking place in American 
poetry at present are those that regard form. 
The Imagists and other free verse writers have 
found their encomiasts, and to them the renewed 
vitality of American poetry has in consequence 



SCEPTICISMS 

been a little too freely ascribed. No one will 
deny that the current changes in poetic form 
the earlier blind revolt, the later effort to mint 
new forms which shall be organic have their 
value. But we should not forget that of equal 
and possibly greater importance has been the at- 
tempt of our realists to alter not merely the form 
of poetry but also its content. What Mr. Mase- 
field and Mr. Gibson did in England, it remained 
for Mr. Masters and Mr. Frost to do in America. 
The influence of "Spoon River Anthology" and 
"North of Boston" can hardly yet be estimated. 
That the Imagists did not share in this influence 
was perhaps merely an accident. There was 
nothing in the Imagist platform to prevent it. It 
simply happened that the Imagists were without 
exception lyric poets, or more specifically, poets in 
the decorative or colouristic tradition. While they 
were still experimenting with new rhythms as the 
vehicle of expression for a gamut of perceptions 
and sensations which differed from the traditional 
perceptions and sensations of poetry only by being 
a trifle subtler and more objective, Mr. Masters 
and Mr. Frost, without so much as a preliminary 
blast of the trumpet, suddenly incorporated into 
their poetry a new world the world of the in- 

663 



EDGAR LEE MASTERS 

dividual consciousness in its complex entirety. 
At the moment, this was a new conception of the 
nature of poetry. A poem was not to be a single 
jewel of colourful phrases, but the jewel in its 
matrix. Of such poetry, it is readily seen, the 
appeal would be not merely aesthetic, but in- 
tellectual and emotional also in the richest 
sense, human. The distinction between the poetic 
and the non-poetic vocabulary was broken down, 
a condition which has obtained conspicuously only 
in two preceding poetic eras, the Chaucerian and 
Elizabethan. The opportunity for a transfusion 
of vitality from our tremendously increased prose 
vocabulary to the comparatively small and static 
poetic vocabulary was unparalleled. New devel- 
opments of form were involved, perhaps, but 
while the immediate effects of these were more 
obvious, it is to be questioned whether they were 
as far-reaching. It is safe to say that no poet now 
writing in this country has escaped this influence. 
In its healthily acrid presence it has been increas- 
ingly difficult for the prettifiers, the airy treaders 
of preciosity, the disciples of sweetness and senti- 
ment, to go their mincing ways. Most of them 
have felt a compulsion either to change tone or 
to be silent. 

[673 



SCEPTICISMS 

In view of the importance of this influence, 
therefore, it is interesting to speculate on the 
nature and function of realistic poetry; and the 
work of Mr. Masters furnishes an excellent oppor- 
tunity. To say that such work as this delights 
us, at its best, because it is human, is after all 
somewhat superficial. In a broad sense, even the 
most treble of dawn-twitterers is human. But 
clearly the pleasure it affords us is a different sort 
of pleasure from that afforded, say, by a lyric of 
Becquer or Shelley. It has, when it is good, a 
clearly recognizable magic; but this magic is not 
quite of the same character as that we associate 
with "Kubla Khan" or "The Ode to a Grecian 
Urn." Matthew Arnold in his essay on poetry 
was apparently insensible to this distinction, for 
at least one of his famous touchstone lines belongs 
rather to the realistic than to the lyric category of 
magic. The line of Wordsworth, "And never 
lifted up a single stone," certainly does not ap- 
peal, in any clear way, to the sense of beauty; 
its felicity is of a different sort. What precisely 
constitutes this second sort of verbal magic is in 
the present state of psychology perhaps impossible 
to analyse. At most we can perceive certain re- 
lations and distinctions. On one plane, the 

C68J 



EDGAR LEE MASTERS 

mechanism of the two is identical: both depend 
for their effect on the choice of so sharply char- 
acteristic a single detail that a powerful motor 
reaction will ensue and complete the sensory pat- 
tern in its entirety. This is known as Pavlov's 
law. But here begins the divergence, for while 
this might explain the quality of vividness which 
is common to both, it appears to have no bearing 
on the fact that each sort of vividness affects the 
reader in a specifically different manner. The 
first, or Shelley-Becquer type of magic, appeals 
to what is indefinitely called the sense of beauty; 
the second, or Masters-Frost type, appeals perhaps 
to the sense of reality. These terms are deplor- 
ably vague. Our enjoyment of art is consequent 
upon the satisfaction of two kinds of hunger: 
hunger for beauty and hunger for knowledge. 
Let what the Freudians call an emotional complex 
be formed early in life upon the frustrated first 
of these hungers, and we get a lyric or colourist 
type of artist; upon the other, and we get a realist. 
Mr. Masters is of the latter type, though there 
are traces in him of the former as well. The 
curious thing is that while he frequently manifests 
a vivid desire to employ the lyric kind of magic, 
he nearly always fails at it ; his average of success 

C69H 



SCEPTICISMS 

with the realistic magic is consistently very much 
higher. He is essentially a digger-out of facts, 
particularly of those facts which regard the 
mechanism of human character. In the presence 
of richly human material the sufferings, the de- 
spairs, the foolish illusions, the amazing overween- 
ings of the individual man or woman he has the 
cold hunger of the microscope. Curiosity is his 
compelling motive, not the desire for beauty. He 
is insatiable for facts and events, for the secrets 
of human behaviour. Consequently it is as a 
narrator that he does his best work. He is essen- 
tially a psychological story-teller, one who has 
chosen for his medium not prose but verse, a 
tumbling and jostling and overcrowded sort of 
verse, which, to be sure, frequently becomes prose. 
Was Mr. Masters wise in making this choice*? 
He is by nature extremely loquacious and discur- 
sive it appears to be painful for him to cut down 
to mere essentials and prose would seem to be a 
more natural medium for such a mind. But 
while he almost always fails to compress his ma- 
terial to the point where it becomes singly power- 
ful, it is only the fact that he uses a verse form 
which compels him to compress at all; and it is 
also clear that at his moments of keenest pleasure 

OH 



EDGAR LEE MASTERS 

in dissective narration he can only experience satis- 
faction in a verse of sharply accentuated ictus. It 
is at these moments that his work takes on the 
quality of realistic magic, the magic of vivid ac- 
tion, dramatic truthfulness, muscular reality. 
We are made to feel powerfully the thrust and 
fecundity of human life, particularly its animal- 
ism; we are also made to feel its struggle to be, or 
to believe itself, something more. It is in the 
perception and expression of this something more 
that Mr. Masters chiefly fails, not because he is 
not aware of it (he repeatedly makes it clear that 
he is, though not of course in the guise of senti- 
mentality) but because at this point his power 
and felicity of expression abandon him. What 
emotional compulsion he has towards self-expres- 
sion lies in the other direction. His temperament 
might be compared not inexactly to that of 
Hogarth, the Hogarth of "Marriage a la Mode" 
and "The Rake's Progress" rather than of the 
caricatures. It is in the Hogarthian type of magic 
that he is most proficient. 

Is it certain however that this proficiency is 
sufficient to make his work enduring 4 ? There is 
no other poet in America today whose work is so 
amazingly uneven, whose sense of values is so 



SCEPTICISMS 

disconcertingly uncertain. While in some re- 
spects Mr. Master's intellectual equipment is 
richer than that of any of his rivals, it has about 
it also something of the nouveau riche. Much 
of his erudition seems only half digested, much 
of it is inaccurate, much of it smells of quackery 
or the woman's page of the morning paper. 
Much of it too is dragged in by the heels and is 
very dull reading. Moreover, this uncertainty- 
one might almost say unripeness besets Mr. 
Masters on the aesthetic plane quite as clearly as 
on the intellectual. To put it synaesthetically, 
he appears not to know a yellow word from a 
purple one. He goes from a passage of great 
power to a passage of bathos, from the vividly 
true to the blatantly false, from the incisive to 
the dull, without the least awareness. In "Songs 
and Satires" one passes, in bewilderment, from 
"Arabel," remarkably sustained in atmosphere, 
vivid in its portraiture, skilful in its use of 
suspense, to the ludicrous ineffectual ity of the 
Launcelot poem, in which many solemn events 
are unintentionally comic. In "Toward the 
Gulf," one passes, with the same astonishment, 
from the utter falseness and preposterous anti- 
climax of the "Dialogue at Perko's" to the in- 



EDGAR LEE MASTERS 

tensity and magic of "The Widow LaRue." This 
means of course that Mr. Masters is not in the 
thorough sense an artist. He does not know the 
effect of what he is doing. He is indeed, as an 
artist, careless to the point of recklessness. It is 
as if a steam dredge should become pearl diver: 
he occasionally finds an oyster, sometimes a pearl ; 
but he drags up also an amazing amount of mud. 
His felicities and monstrosities are alike the acci- 
dents of temperament, not the designs of art. 
Hasty composition is repeatedly manifest. Six 
months more of reflection would perhaps have 
eliminated such poems as "The Canticle of the 
Race" (Mr. Masters is often in the hands of 
demons when he uses rhyme), "The Awakening," 
"In the Garden at the Dawn Hour," "Dear Old 
Dick," "Toward the Gulf," and two or three 
others; a good half of "Songs and Satires"; per- 
haps a third of "Spoon River"; and would have 
disclosed to him such verbal errors as "disregard- 
less" and "forgerer" trifles, indeed, but symp- 
tomatic. 

And yet on the whole one is more optimistic 
as to the future of Mr. Masters after reading 
his latest book than at any time since the appear- 
ance of "Spoon River Anthology." Bad and good 



SCEPTICISMS 

are still confounded, but in more encouraging pro- 
portions. From "Widow LaRue," "Front the 
Ages with a Smile," "Tomorrow is my Birthday," 
"Saint Deseret" one gets an almost unmixed 
pleasure. In these one feels the magic of reality. 
These poems, like "Arabel" and "In the Cage," 
are synthesized; and it is in this vein that one 
would like to see Mr. Masters continue, avoiding 
the pitfalls of the historical, the philosophical, the 
pseudo-scientific. Will he yet learn to employ, 
as an artist, the selection and compression which 
in the "Spoon River Anthology" were forced 
upon him by the exigencies of the case*? Will 
he continue at the same time to develop in psycho- 
logical richness and in his sense of the music of 
sound and the balance of form? . . . Whether 
he does or not, we already have reason to be pro- 
foundly grateful to him. His influence has been 
widespread and wholesome. We are badly in 
need of poets who are unafraid to call a spade a 
damned shovel. And a good many of us are too 
ready to forget that realistic magic is quite as 
legitimate in poetry as lyric magic, and quite as 
clearly in the English tradition. If art is the 
effort of man to understand himself by means of 
self-expression, then surely it should not be all 

[743 



EDGAR LEE MASTERS 

ghosts and cobwebs and soul-stuff. . . . Mr. 
Masters reminds us that we are both complex and 
physical. 



C75J 



The Function of Rhythm: 
Ford Madox Hueffer 



I 



N the preface to his latest book of poems, 
"On Heaven," Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer re- 
marks : 



The greater part of the book is, I notice on putting it 
together, in either vers libre or rhymed vers libre. I am 
not going to apologize for this or to defend vers libre as 
such. It is because I simply can't help it. Vers libre is 
the only medium in which I can convey any more inti- 
mate moods. Vers libre is a very jolly medium in which 
to write and to read, if it be read conversationally and 
quietly. And anyhow, symmetrical or rhymed verse is 
for me a cramped and difficult medium or an easy and 
uninteresting one. 

One recollects further, that Mr. Hueffer has in 
the past been also insistent, in theory and in prac- 
tice, on the point that poetry should be at least as 
well written as prose that, in other words, it 
[76] 



FORD MADOX HUEFFER 

must be good prose before it can be good poetry. 
Taken together, these ideas singularly echo a pre- 
face written one hundred and twenty odd years 
ago Wordsworth's preface to the "Lyrical Bal- 
lads." In the appendix to that volume Words- 
worth, it will be recalled, remarked that in works 
of imagination the ideas, in proportion as they are 
valuable, whether in prose or verse, "require and 
exact one and the same language." And through- 
out he insisted on doing away with all merely 
decorative language and on using the speech of 
daily life. 

On the matter of metre or rhythm, however, the 
two poets are not so entirely in agreement as they 
might appear to be. They are in agreement, it 
might be said, just in so far as they both seem 
inclined to regard the question of rhythm as only 
of minor or incidental importance. "Metre," said 
Wordsworth, "is only adventitious to composi- 
tion." Mr. Hueffer, as is seen above, candidly 
admits that he avoids the strictest symmetrical 
forms because to use them well is too difficult. 
Do both poets perhaps underestimate the value of 
rhythm? In the light of the widespread vogue of 
free verse at present, it is a question interesting to 
speculate upon. And Mr. Hueffer's poems, 

C77] 



SCEPTICISMS 

which are excellent, afford us a pleasant oppor- 
tunity. 

Wordsworth's theory as to the function of 
rhythm was peculiar. He believed that as poetry 
consists usually in a finer distillation of the emo- 
tions than is found in prose, some check must be 
used lest the excitation arising therefrom, whether 
pleasurable or painful, exceed desired bounds. 
Rhythm is to act as a narcotic. "The co-expres- 
sion of something regular, something to which the 
mind has been accustomed ... in a less excited 
state cannot but have great efficacy in tempering 
. . . the passion by an admixture of ordinary 
feeling. . . ." Only by way of incidental emen- 
dation did Wordsworth suggest that in some cases 
metre might "contribute to impart passion to the 
words." This is perhaps to put the cart before 
the horse. Mr. Hueffer, on the other hand, while 
equally regarding, or appearing to regard, metre 
as a subsidiary element, raises a different and 
subtler objection to it. In common with a good 
many champions of free verse he feels that -free 
verse is better than symmetrical verse for the con- 
veyance of more intimate moods. This is a 
plausible and intriguing theory. At first glimpse 
it seems only natural that in a freer and more dis- 
[783 



FORD MADOX HUEFFER 

cursive medium the poet should find himself better 
able to fix upon the more impalpable nuances of 
feeling. But a steadier inspection leaves one not 
quite so sure. If one can convey subtler moods in 
free verse than in symmetrical verse, might one 
not logically argue that prose could be subtler still 
than either? And we should have reached the 
conclusion that poetry should employ, to reach its 
maximum efficiency, not only the language but 
also the rhythms of prose in other words, that it 
should be prose. 

The logic is perhaps not impeccable; but it is 
sufficiently strong to suggest the presence of some 
error. If prose could convey subtler emotional 
moods and impressions than poetry, why write 
poetry? We suspect however that the reverse is 
true, and that it is poetry which possesses the 
greater and subtler power of evocation. But the 
language is, largely speaking, the same in both. 
And consequently we must assume that this 
superior quality of evocativeness or magic which 
we associate with poetry has something to do with 
the fact that, more artfully than in prose, the 
language is arranged. And this arrangement is, 
obviously, in great part a matter of rhythm. 

This brings us back, accordingly, to the after- 

[793 



SCEPTICISMS 

thought in Wordsworth's appendix to the Lyrical 
Ballads the idea that metre may impart 
"passion" to words. The truth of this seems 
irrefragable. When a poet, therefore, discards 
rhythm he is discarding perhaps the most powerful 
single artifice of poetry which is at his disposal 
the particular artifice, moreover, which more than 
any other enables the poet to obtain a psychic 
control over his reader, to exert a sort of hypnosis 
over him. Rhythm is persuasive; it is the very 
stuff of life. It is not surprising therefore that 
things can be said in rhythm which otherwise can- 
not be said at all; paraphrase a fine passage of 
poetry into prose and in the dishevelment the 
ghost will have escaped. A good many cham- 
pions of free verse would perhaps dispute this. 
They would fall back on the theory that, at any 
rate, certain moods more colloquial and less in- 
tense than those of the highest type of poetry, and 
less colloquial and more intense than those of the 
highest type of prose, could find their aptest ex- 
pression in this form which lies halfway between. 
But even here their position will not be altogether 
secure, at least in theory. Is any contemporary 
poetry more colloquial or intimate than that of 



FORD MADOX HUEFFER 

T. S. Eliot, who is predominantly a metrical poet? 
It is doubtful. Metrical verse, in other words, 
can accomplish anything that free verse can, and 
can do it more persuasively. What we in- 
evitably come to is simply the fact that for some 
poets free verse is an easier medium than metrical 
verse, and consequently allows them greater effi- 
ciency. It is desirable therefore that such poets 
should employ free verse. They only transgress 
when they argue from this that free verse is the 
finer form. This it is not. 

The reasons for this would take us beyond the 
mere question of rhythm. When Wordsworth 
remarked that one could re-read with greater 
pleasure a painful or tragic passage of poetry than 
a similar passage of prose, although he mistakenly 
ascribed this as altogether due to the presence of 
metre, he nevertheless touched closely upon the 
real principle at issue. For compared with the 
pleasure derived from the reading of prose, the 
pleasure of reading poetry is two-natured : in addi- 
tion to the pleasure afforded by the ideas presented, 
or the material (a pleasure which prose equally af- 
fords), there is also the more purely aesthetic de- 
light of the art itself, a delight which might be de- 



SCEPTICISMS 

scribed as the sense of perfection in complexity, or 
the sense of arrangement. This arrangement is 
not solely a question of rhythm. It is also con- 
cerned with the selection of elements in the lang- 
uage more vividly sensuous and with the more 
adroit combination of ideas with a view to setting 
them off to sharper advantage. Given two poems 
in which the theme is equally delightful and effec- 
tive on the first reading, that poem of the two 
which develops the theme with the richer and 
more perfect complexity of technique will longer 
afford pleasure in re-reading. It is, in other 
words, of more permanent value. 

Mr. Hueffer confesses in advance that he pre- 
fers a less to a more complex form of art. As a 
matter of fact Mr. Hueffer is too modest. When 
he speaks of free verse he does not mean, to the 
extent in which it is usually meant, verse without 
rhythm. At his freest he is not far from a 
genuinely rhythmic method; and in many respects 
his sense of rhythm is both acute and individual. 
Three poems in his latest book would alone make 
it worth printing: "Antwerp," which is one of the 
three or four brilliant poems inspired by the war; 
"Foot-sloggers," which though not so good is none 
the less very readable; and "On Heaven," the 

C82] 



FORD MADOX HUEFFER 

poem which gives the volume its name. It is true 
that in all three of these poems Mr. Hueffer very 
often employs a rhythm which is almost as dis- 
persed as that of prose; but the point to be em- 
phatically remarked is that he does so only by 
way of variation on the given norm of move- 
ment, which is essentially and predominantly 
rhythmic. Variation of this sort is no more or 
less than good artistry; and Mr. Hueffer is a 
very competent artist, in whose hands even the 
most captious reader feels instinctively and at 
once secure. Does he at times overdo the dis- 
persal of rhythm*? Perhaps. There are moments, 
in "Antwerp" and in "On Heaven," when the 
relief of the reader on coming to a forcefully 
rhythmic passage is so marked as to make him 
suspect that the rhythm of the passage just left 
was not forceful enough. Mr. Hueffer is of a 
discursive temperament, viewed from whatever 
angle, and this leads him inevitably to over-in- 
clusiveness and moments of let-down. One feels 
that a certain amount of cutting would improve 
both "Antwerp" and "On Heaven." 

Yet one would hesitate to set about it oneself. 
Both poems are delightful. Mr. Hueffer writes 
with gusto and imagination, and what is perhaps 

[83] 



SCEPTICISMS 

rarer among contemporary poets with tender- 
ness. "On Heaven" may not be the very highest 
type of poetry it is clearly of the more colloquial 
sort, delightfully expatiative, skilful in its use of 
the more subdued tones of prose but it takes hold 
of one, and that is enough. One accepts it for 
what it is, not demanding of it what the author 
never intended to give it that higher degree of 
perfection in intricacy, that more intense and all- 
fusing synthesis, which would have bestowed on 
it the sort of beauty that more permanently 
endures. 



VI 

The Literary Abbozzo: Lola 
Ridge 

THE Italians use the word abbozzo mean- 
ing a sketch or unfinished work not only 
in reference to drawing or painting but 
also as a sculptural term. The group of un- 
finished sculptures by Michelangelo in Florence, 
for example, takes this name; they are called 
simply abbozzi. The stone is still rough the 
conception has only just begun to appear; it has 
not yet wholly or freely emerged. There is an 
impressiveness in the way in which the powerful 
figures seem struggling with the rock for release. 
And it is no wonder that Rodin and others have 
seen in this particular stage of a piece of sculpture 
a hint for a new method based on the clear enough 
aesthetic value of what might be called the pro- 
vocatively incomplete. 

Unfortunately, in literature as in sculpture, the 

[85] 



SCEPTICISMS 

vogue of the incomplete has become too general, 
and has in consequence attracted many who are 
without a clear understanding of its principles. 
Two misconceptions regarding it are particularly 
common: one, that it is relatively formless, and 
therefore easier than a method more precise; the 
other, that it is a universal style, applicable to 
any one of the whole gamut of themes. Neither 
of these notions, of course, is true. The literary 
abbozzo or to be more precise, the poetic abbozzo 
demands a high degree of skill, a very sure in- 
stinct. And it should be equally apparent that * 
it is properly applicable to what is relatively only 
a small number of moods or themes among 
which one might place conspicuously the dithy- 
rambic and the enumerative. These are moods 
which irregularity will often save from monotony. 
Whitman's catalogues would be even worse than 
they are had they been written as conscientiously 
in heroic couplets. The same is perhaps true of 
the dithyrambs of Ossian. Both poets to have 
been successful in a more skilfully elaborate style 
would have been compelled to delete a great deal 
. . . which would no doubt have been an im- 
provement. 

This makes one a little suspicious of the 
[86] 



LOLA RIDGE 

abbozzo : is it possible that we overrate it a trifle"? 
Might we not safely suggest to those artists whom 
we suspect of greatness, or even of very great skill 
merely, that their employment of the abbozzo 
should be chiefly as relaxation*? But they will 
hardly need to be told. The provocatively incom- 
plete which is to be sharply distinguished from 
the merely truncated or slovenly has its charm, 
its beautiful suggestiveness ; but in proportion as 
the artist is powerful he will find the abbozzo 
insufficient, he will want to substitute for this 
charm, this delicate hover, a beauty and strength 
more palpable. The charm which inheres in the 
implied rather than the explicit he knows how to 
retain he will retain it in the dim counterpoint 
of thought itself. 

The poems of Miss Lola Ridge raise all these 
issues sharply, no less because the author has rich- 
ness and originality of sensibility, and at times 
brilliance of idea, than because she follows this 
now too common vogue Here is a vivid per- 
sonality, even a powerful one, clearly aware of 
the peculiar experience which is its own a not 
too frequent gift. It rejoices in the streaming and 
garishly lighted multiplicity of the city: it turns 
eagerly toward the semi-tropical fecundity of the 

[87] 



SCEPTICISMS 

meaner streets and tenement districts. Here it is 
the human item that most attracts Miss Ridge 
Jews, for the most part, seen darkly and warmly 
against a background of social consciousness, of 
rebelliousness even. She arranges her figures for 
us with a muscular force which seems masculine; 
it is singular to come upon a book written by a 
woman in which vigour is so clearly a more natural 
quality than grace. This is sometimes merely 
strident, it is true. When she compares Time to 
a paralytic, "A mildewed hulk above the nations 
squatting," one fails to respond. Nor is one 
moved precisely as Miss Ridge might hope when 
she tells us of a wind which "noses among them 
like a skunk that roots about the heart." It is 
apparent from the frequency with which such 
falsities occur particularly in the section called 
"Labour" that Miss Ridge is a trifle obsessed 
with the concern of being powerful: she forgets 
that the harsh is only harsh when used sparingly, 
the loud only loud when it emerges from the quiet. 
She is uncertain enough of herself to deal in harsh- 
nesses wholesale and to scream them. 

But with due allowances made for these extrava- 
gances the extravagances of the brilliant but 
somewhat too abounding amateur one must pay 

[88] 



LOLA RIDGE 

one's respects to Miss Ridge for her very frequent 
verbal felicities, for her images brightly lighted, 
for a few shorter poems which are clusters of 
glittering phrases, and for the human richness of 
one longer poem, "The Ghetto," in which the 
vigorous and the tender are admirably fused. 
Here Miss Ridge's reactions are fullest and 
truest. Here she is under no compulsion to be 
strident. And it is precisely because here she is 
relatively most successful that one is most awk- 
wardly conscious of the defects inherent in the 
whole method for which Miss Ridge stands. 
This is a use of the "provocatively incomplete" 
as concerns form in which, unfortunately, the 
provocative has been left out. If we consider 
again, for a moment, Michelangelo's abbozzi, we 
become aware how slightly, by comparison, Miss 
Ridge's figures have begun to emerge. Have they 
emerged enough to suggest the clear overtone of 
the thing completed*? The charm of the incom- 
plete is of course in its positing of a norm which 
it suggests, approaches, retreats from, or at points 
actually touches. The ghost of completeness 
alternately shines and dims. But for Miss Ridge 
these subtleties of form do not come forward. 
She is content to use for the most part a direct 

C89H 



SCEPTICISMS 

prose, with only seldom an interpellation of the 
metrical, and the metrical of a not particularly 
skilful sort. The latent harmonies are never 
evoked. 

One hesitates to make suggestions. Miss Ridge 
might have to sacrifice too much vigour and richness 
to obtain a greater beauty of form : the effort might 
prove her undoing. By the degree of her success 
or failure in this undertaking, however, she would 
become aware of her real capacities as an artist. 
Or is she wise enough to know beforehand that 
the effort would be fruitless, and that she has 
already reached what is for her the right pitch 1 ? 
That would be a confession but it would leave us, 
even so, a wide margin for gratitude. 



VII 

The Melodic Line: D. H. 
Lawrence 

IT has been said that all the arts are constantly 
attempting, within their respective spheres, 
to attain to something of the quality of 
music, to assume, whether in pigment, or pencil, 
or marble, or prose, something of its speed and 
flash, emotional completeness, and well-har- 
monied resonance; but of no other single art is 
that so characteristically or persistently true as it 
is of poetry. Poetry is indeed in this regard 
two-natured: it strikes us, when it is at its best, 
quite as sharply through our sense of the musically 
beautiful as through whatever implications it has 
to carry of thought or feeling: it plays on us 
alternately or simultaneously through sound as 
well as through sense. The writers of free verse 
have demonstrated, to be sure, that a poetry suffi- 
ciently effective may be written in almost entire 



SCEPTICISMS 

disregard of the values of pure rhythm. The 
poetry of "H.D." is perhaps the clearest example 
of this. Severe concentration upon a damascene 
sharpness of sense-impression, a stripping of im- 
ages to the white clear kernel, both of which mat- 
ters can be more meticulously attended to if there 
are no bafflements of rhythm or rhyme-pattern to 
be contended with, have, to a considerable extent, 
a substitutional value. Such a poetry attains a 
vitreous lucidity which has its own odd heatless 
charm. But a part of its charm lies in its very act 
of departure from a norm which, like a back- 
ground or undertone, is forever present for it in 
our minds; we like it in a sense because of its 
unique perversity as a variation on this more 
familiar order of rhythmic and harmonic suspen- 
sions and resolutions; we like it in short for its 
novelty; and it eventually leaves us unsatisfied, 
because this more familiar order is based on a 
musical hunger which is as profound and per- 
manent as it is universal. 

When we read a poem we are aware of this 
musical characteristic, or analogy, in several ways. 
The poem as a whole in this regard will satisfy us 
or not in accordance with the presence, or partial 
presence, or absence, of what we might term 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

musical unity. The "Ode to a Nightingale" is an 
example of perfect musical unity; the "Ode to Au- 
tumn" is an example of partial musical unity, 
partial because the resolution comes too soon, the 
rate of curve is too abruptly altered; many of the 
poems by contemporary writers of free verse 
Fletcher, or Aldington, or "H.D." illustrate 
what we mean by lack of musical unity or in- 
tegration, except on the secondary plane, the plane 
of what we might call orotundity; and the most 
complete lack of all may be found in the vast 
majority of Whitman's poems. This particular 
sort of musical quality in poetry is, however, so 
nearly identifiable with the architectural as to be 
hardly separable from it. It is usually in the 
briefer movements of a poem that musical charm 
is most keenly felt. And this sort of brief and 
intensely satisfactory musical movement we might 
well describe as something closely analogous to 
what is called in musical compositions the melodic 
line. 

By melodic line we shall not mean to limit our- 
selves to one line of verse merely. Our melodic 
line may be, indeed, one line of verse, or half a 
line, or a group of lines, or half a page. What 
we have in mind is that sort of brief movement 



SCEPTICISMS 

when, for whatever psychological reason, there is 
suddenly a fusion of all the many qualities, which 
may by themselves constitute charm, into one in- 
divisible magic. Is it possible for this psycho- 
logical change to take place without entailing an 
immediate heightening of rhythmic effect 4 ? Pos- 
sible, perhaps, but extremely unlikely. In a free 
verse poem we shall expect to see at such moments 
a very much closer approximation to the rhythm 
of metrical verse: in a metrical poem we shall 
expect to see a subtilization of metrical effects, a 
richer or finer employment of vowel and con- 
sonantal changes to that end. Isolate such a 
passage in a free verse poem or metrical poem and 
it will be seen how true this is. The change is 
immediately perceptible, like the change from a 
voice talking to a voice singing. The change is as 
profound in time as it is in tone, yet it is one which 
escapes any but the most superficial analysis. All 
we can say of it is that it at once alters the char- 
acter of the verse we are reading from that sort 
which pleases and is forgotten, pleases without 
disturbing, to that sort which strikes into the sub- 
conscious, gleams, and is automatically remem- 
bered. In the midst of the rich semi-prose re- 
citative of Fletcher's White Symphony, for ex- 

C943 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

ample, a recitative which charms and entices but 
does not quite enchant, or take one's memory, one 
comes to the following passage : 

Autumn ! Golden fountains, 

And the winds neighing 

Amid the monotonous hills ; 

Desolation of the old gods, 

Rain that lifts and rain that moves away; 

In the green-black torrent 

Scarlet leaves. 

It is an interlude of song and one remembers it. 
Is this due to an intensification of rhythm 1 ? 
Partly, no doubt, but not altogether. The emo- 
tional heightening is just as clear, and the unity 
of impression is pronounced; it is a fusion of all 
these qualities, and it is impossible to say which 
is the primum mobile. As objective psychol- 
ogists all we can conclude is that in what is con- 
spicuously a magical passage in this poem there is 
a conspicuous increase in the persuasiveness of 
rhythm. 

This is equally true of metrical poetry. It is 
these passages of iridescent fusion that we recall 
from among the many thousands of lines we have 
read. One has but to summon up from one's 
memory the odds and ends of poems which willy 

[95] 



SCEPTICISMS 

nilly one remembers, precious fragments cherished 
by the jackdaw of the subconscious: 

A savage spot as holy and enchanted 

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted 

By woman wailing for her demon-lover. 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves 
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back 
When the wind blows the water white and black. 

Beauty is momentary in the mind, 
The fitful tracing of a portal : 
But in the flesh it is immortal. 

And shook a most divine dance from their feet, 
That twinkled starlike, moved as swift, and fine, 
And beat the air so thin, they made it shine. 

Part of a moon was falling down the west 
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills. 
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw 
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand 
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings, 
Taut with the dew from garden-bed to eaves, 
As if she played unheard the tenderness 
That wrought on him. . . . 

Awakening up, he took her hollow lute, 
Tumultuous, and in chords that tenderest be, 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

He played an ancient ditty long since mute, 

In Provence called, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." 

Ay, Mother, Mother, 

What is this Man, thy darling kissed and cuffed, 
Thou lustingly engenders'!, 
To sweat, and make his brag, and rot, 
Crowned with all honours and all shamef ulness ? 
He dogs the secret footsteps of the heavens, 
Sifts in his hands the stars, weighs them as gold-dust, 
And yet is he successive unto nothing, 
But patrimony of a little mould, 
And entail of four planks. 

And suddenly there's no meaning in our kiss, 
And your lit upward face grows, where we lie, 
Lonelier and dreadfuller than sunlight is, 
And dumb and mad and eyeless like the sky. 

All of these excerpts, mangled as they are by 
being hewed from their contexts, have in a notice- 
able degree the quality of the "melodic line." 
They are the moments for which, indeed, we read 
poetry ; just as when in listening to a modern music 
however complex and dissonantal, it is after "all 
the occasionally-arising brief cry of lyricism which 
thrills and dissolves us. When the subconscious 
speaks, the subconscious answers. 

It is because in a good deal of contemporary 

[97] 



SCEPTICISMS 

poetry the importance of the melodic line is for- 
gotten that this brief survey has been made. In 
our preoccupations with the many technical quar- 
rels, and quarrels as to aesthetic purpose, which 
have latterly embroiled our poets, we have, I think, 
a little lost sight of the fact that poetry to be 
poetry must after all rise above a mere efficiency 
of charmingness, or efficiency of accuracy, to this 
sort of piercing perfection of beauty or truth, 
phrased in a piercing perfection of music. It is a 
wholesome thing for us to study the uses of dis- 
sonance and irregularity; we add in that way, 
whether sensuously or psychologically, many new 
tones; but there is danger that the habit will grow 
upon us, that we will forget the reasons for our 
adoption of these qualities and use them passim 
and without intelligence, or, as critics, confer a too 
arbitrary value upon them. 

The poetry of Mr. D. H. Lawrence is a case 
very much in point. His temperament is modern 
to a degree: morbidly self-conscious, sex-crucified, 
an affair of stretched and twanging nerves. He 
belongs, of course, to the psychological wing of 
modern poetry. Although we first met him as 
an Imagist, it is rather with T. S. Eliot, or Masters, 
or the much gentler Robinson, all of whom are in a 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

sense lineal descendants of the Meredith of 
"Modern Love," that he belongs. But he does 
not much resemble any of these. His range is 
extremely narrow, it is nearly always erotic, 
febrile and sultry at the lower end, plangently 
philosophic at the upper. Within this range he 
is astonishingly various. No mood is too slight 
to be seized upon, to be thrust under his myopic 
lens. Here, in fact, we touch his cardinal weak- 
ness: for if as a novelist he often writes like a 
poet, as a poet he far too often writes like a 
novelist. One observes that he knows this him- 
self he asks the reader of "Look! We Have 
Come Through!" to consider it not as a col- 
lection of short poems, but as a sort of novel 
in verse. No great rearrangement, perhaps, 
would have been necessary to do the same thing 
for "New Poems" or "Amores," though perhaps 
not so cogently. More than most poets he makes 
of his poetry a sequential, though somewhat dis- 
jointed, autobiography. And more than almost 
any poet one can think of, who compares with 
him for richness of temperament, he is unselective 
in doing so, both as to material and method. 

He is, indeed, as striking an example as one 
could find of the poet who, while appearing to be 

199/1 



SCEPTICISMS 

capable of what we have tailed the melodic line, 
none the less seems to be unaware of the value and 
importance of it, and gives it to us at random, 
brokenly, half blindly, or intermingled with 
splintered fragments of obscure sensation and ex- 
traneous detail dragged in to fill out a line. A 
provoking poet ! and a fatiguing one : a poet of the 
demonic type, a man possessed, who is swept 
helplessly struggling and lashing down the black 
torrent of his thought; alternately frenzied and 
resigned. "A poet," says Santayana, "who merely 
swam out into the sea of sensibility, and tried to 
picture all possible things . . . would bring 
materials only to the workshop of art; he would 
not be an artist." What Santayana had in mind 
was a poet who undertook this with a deliberate- 
ness but the effect in the case of Mr. Lawrence 
is much the same. He is seldom wholly an artist, 
even when his medium is most under control. It 
is when he is at his coolest, often, when he tries 
rhyme-pattern or rhythm-pattern or colour-pat- 
tern in an attempt at the sort of icy kaleidoscopics 
at which Miss Lowell is adept, that he is most 
tortuously and harshly and artificially and alto- 
gether unreadably at his worst. Is he obsessed 
with dissonance and oddity"? It would seem so. 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

His rhymes are cruel, sometimes, to the verge of 
murder. 

Yet, if he is not wholly an artist, he is certainly, 
in at least a fragmentary sense, a brilliant poet. 
Even that is hardly fair enough: the two more 
recent volumes contain more than a handful of 
uniquely captivating poems. They have a curious 
quality, tawny, stark, bitter, harshly coloured, 
salt to the taste. The sadistic element in them is 
strong. It is usually in the love poems that he is 
best : in these he is closest to giving us the melodic 
line that comes out clear and singing. Closest in- 
deed; but the perfect achievement is seldom. The 
fusion is not complete. The rhythms do not alto- 
gether free themselves, one feels that they are 
weighted; the impressions are impetuously 
crowded and huddled; and as concerns the com- 
manding of words Mr. Lawrence is a captain of 
more force than tact: he is obeyed, but sullenly. 
Part of this is due, no doubt, to Mr. Lawrence's 
venturings among moods and sensations which no 
poet has hitherto attempted, moods secret and 
obscure, shadowy and suspicious. This is to his 
credit, and greatly to the credit of poetry. He is 
among the most original poets of our time, 
original, that is, as regards sensibility; he has given 

[101] 



SCEPTICISMS 

us sombre and macabre tones, and tones of a cold 
and sinister clarity, or of a steely passion, which 
we have not had before. His nerves are raw, his 
reactions are idiosyncratic : what is clear enough to 
him has sometimes an unhealthily mottled look to 
us, esuriently etched, none the less. But a 
great deal of the time he over-reaches: he makes 
frequently the mistake of, precisely, trying too 
hard. What cannot be captured, in this regard, 
it is no use killing. Brutality is no substitute for 
magic. One must take one's mood alive and sing- 
ing, or not at all. 

It is this factor which in the poetry of Mr. 
Lawrence most persistently operates to prevent the 
attainment of the perfect melodic line. Again 
and again he gives us a sort of jagged and spangled 
flame; but the mood does not sing quite with the 
naturalness or ease one would hope for, it has the 
air of being dazed by violence, or even seems, in 
the very act of singing, to bleed a little. It is a 
trifle too easy to say of a poet of whom this is true 
that the fault may be due to an obtrusion of the 
intellect among the emotions. Such terms do not 
define, are scarcely separable. Perhaps it would 
more closely indicate the difficulty to say that Mr. 
Lawrence is not only, as all poets are, a curious 



D. H. LAWRENCE 

blending of the psycho-analyst and patient, but 
that he endeavours to carry on both roles at once, 
to speak with both voices simultaneously. The 
soliloquy of the patient the lyricism of the sub- 
conscious is for ever being broken in upon by the 
too eager inquisitions of the analyst. If Mr. Law- 
rence could make up his mind to yield the floor 
unreservedly to either, he would be on the one 
hand a clearer and more magical poet, on the 
other hand a more dependable realist. 

One wonders, in the upshot, whether the theme 
of "Look! We have Come Through!" had better 
not have been treated in prose. The story, such 
as it is, emerges, it is true, and with many deli- 
ciously clear moments, some of them lyric and 
piercing; but with a good deal that remains in 
question. It is the poet writing very much as a 
novelist, and all too often forgetting that the 
passage from the novel to the poem is among other 
things a passage from the cumulative to the se- 
lective. Sensations and impressions may be 
hewed and hauled in prose; but in poetry it is 
rather the sort of mood which, like a bird, flies out 
of the tree as soon as the ax rings against it, that 
one must look for. Mr. Lawrence has, of this 
sort, his birds, but he appears to pay little heed to 



SCEPTICISMS 

them; he goes on chopping. And one has, even 
so, such a delight in him that not for worlds would 
one intervene. 



[104;] 



VIII 

Possessor and Possessed: John 
Gould Fletcher 

THE work of Mr. John Gould Fletcher has 
hardly attained the eminence in contem- 
porary poetry that it deserves. One is 
doubtful, indeed, whether it will. For not only 
is it of that sort which inevitably attracts only a 
small audience, but it is also singularly uneven in 
quality, and many readers who would like Mr. 
Fletcher at his best cannot muster the patience to 
read beyond his worst. Mr. Fletcher is his own 
implacable enemy. He has not yet published a 
book in which his excellent qualities are single, 
candid, and undivided : a great many dead leaves 
are always to be turned. The reward for the 
search is conspicuous, but unfortunately it is one 
which few will take the trouble to find. 

Mr. Fletcher's latest book, "The Tree of Life" is 
no exception to this rule : it is perhaps, if we leave 



SCEPTICISMS 

out of account his five early books of orthodox 
and nugatory self-exploration, the most remark- 
ably uneven of them all. It has neither the level 
technical excellence, the economical terseness of 
his "Japanese Prints," nor, on the other hand, the 
amazing flight of many pages in "Goblins and 
Pagodas." Yet certainly one would rather have 
it than "Japanese Prints" ; and even if it contains a 
greater proportion of dross than is to be found in 
the symphonies, it has compensating qualities, 
qualities which one feels are new in the work of 
Mr. Fletcher, and which make one hesitate to rate 
it too far below "Goblins and Pagodas," or, at any 
rate, "Irradiations." For the moment, however, it 
is interesting to set aside these new qualities and 
to consider, or savour, the astonishing unequalness 
which alone would constitute a sort of distinction 
in the work of Mr. Fletcher. It is the custom in 
such cases to say that the poet has no self-critical 
faculty, and to let it go at that. But that ex- 
planation is of a general and vague character, and 
operates only under the fallacy that any such com- 
plex is reducible to the terms of a single factor. 
It should be clear that any given complex will 
consist of several factors; that "absence of a criti- 
cal faculty" is to a considerable degree a merely 



JOHN GOULD FLETCHER 

negative diagnosis; and that perhaps one would 
wisely look for a more express clue to the par- 
ticular personal equation in something more posi- 
tive as for example in some excess rather than 
lack. It is in a kind of redundancy, on the psychic 
plane, that an artist's character is most manifest. 
Here will lie the key to both his successes and his 
failures. It should be the critic's undertaking to 
name and analyse this redundancy and to ascer- 
tain the degree in which the artist has it under 
control. 

Unfortunately, this undertaking, in the present 
state of psychology and criticism is a branch oi 
psychology is as yet highly speculative; it bor- 
ders, indeed, in the opinion of many, on the 
mythological. Criticism of this sort must be, 
confessedly, supposititious. Thus in the case of 
Mr. Fletcher we shall perhaps find the most sug- 
gestive light cast from a direction which to many 
literary folk is highly suspect from psychology 
itself. KostylefT, it will be recalled, maintains 
that a very important part of the mechanism of 
poetic inspiration rests in the automatic discharge 
of verbal reflexes the initial impulse coming 
from some external stimulus, but the chain of ver- 
bal association thereafter unravelling more or less 



SCEPTICISMS 

of its own momentum, and leading, as far as any 
connection of thought or emotion is concerned, 
well beyond the premises of the original stimulus. 
Of course Kostyleff does not limit himself to this. 
He grants that it is only a peculiar sensibility 
which will store up, as in the case of a poet, such a 
wealth of verbal reflexes: and he grants further 
that there is often though not always the 
initial stimulus from without. For our part, as 
soon as we apply this engaging theory to the work 
of poets, we see that certain aspects of it are 
more illuminating in some cases than others; in 
other words, that while the principle as a whole 
is true of all poets, in some poets it is one factor 
which is more important, and in some another. 
It is true, for example, that Mr. Fletcher has a 
very original sensibility, and it is also true that his 
initial stimulus sometimes comes from without, 
but whereas in the work of certain other poets these 
factors might be paramount, in the case of Mr. 
Fletcher the striking feature has always been his 
habit of surrendering himself, almost completely, 
to the power of these automatically, unravelling 
verbal reflexes. In fact the poetry of Mr. 
Fletcher is as remarkable an illustration of this 
principle as one could find. 



JOHN GOULD FLETCHER 

The implications are rich. What occurs to one 
immediately is that, as the functioning of these 
verbal reflexes is most rapid when least consciously 
controlled, the poet will be at his best when the 
initial stimulus is of a nature to leave him greatest 
freedom. To such a poet, it will be seen, it would 
be a great handicap, to have to adhere too closely, 
throughout a longish poem, to a fixed and unalter- 
able idea. The best theme for him will be the 
one which is least definite, one which will start 
him off at top speed but will be rather enhanced 
than impaired by the introduction and develop- 
ment of new elements, by rapid successive im- 
provisations in unforeseen directions. Any sort 
of conceptual framework prepared in advance with 
regard either to subject or form would be perpet- 
ually retarding him, perpetually bringing him back 
to a more severely conscious plane of effort, a plane 
on which, the chances are, he would be far less 
effective. These suppositions gain force when we 
turn, in their light, to Mr. Fletcher's work. In 
"Irradiations" we find him taking his first ecstatic 
plunge into improvisation formalism is thrown 
to the winds, and with it much which for this poet 
perplexes and retards; and an amazingly rich 
treasure house of verbal reflexes, the gift of a 



SCEPTICISMS 

temperament almost hyperaesthetic in its sensitive- 
ness to colour, line, and texture a temperament in 
which some profound disharmony is most easily 
struck at and shaken through these senses is for 
the first time rifled. It is in this stage of a lyric 
poet's career that his speech most glistens. Im- 
pressions come up shining from their long burial 
in the subconscious. The poet is perhaps a little 
breathless with his sudden wealth he is at first 
content to bring up only small handfuls of the 
most glittering coin; he is even perhaps a little 
distrustful of it. But the habit of allowing him- 
self to be possessed by this wealth grows rapidly. 
The mechanism becomes more familiar, if any- 
thing so vague as this kind of apperception can be 
said to be truly recognizable, and the poet learns 
the trick of shutting his eyes and not merely allow- 
ing, but precisely inviting, his subconscious to take 
possession of him. The trick consists largely in a 
knowledge, abruptly acquired, of his own char- 
acter, and of such ideas as are, therefore, the 
"Open Sesame !" to this cave. It was in colourism 
that Mr. Fletcher found this password. And it 
was in "Goblins and Pagodas" that he first put it 
to full and gorgeous use. 

For in the idea of a series of symphonies in 



JOHN GOULD FLETCHER 

which the sole unity was to be a harmony of colour, 
in which form and emotional tone could follow 
the lead of colouristic word-associations no matter 
how far afield, Mr. Fletcher discovered an "Open 
Sesame !" so ideal to his nature, and so powerful, 
as not merely to open the door, but at one stroke 
to lay bare his treasure entire. One should not 
overlook here also an important secondary element 
in Mr. Fletcher's nature, a strong but partial 
affinity for musical construction, a feeling for 
powerful submerged rhythms less ordered than 
those of metrical verse, but more ordered than 
those of prose; and this element, too, found 
its ideal opportunity in the colour symphonies. 
The result was, naturally, the most brilliant and 
powerful work which Mr. Fletcher has yet given 
us a poetry unlike any other. It contains no 
thought: Mr. Fletcher is not a conceptual poet. 
It contains, in the strictly human sense, extraor- 
dinarily little of the sort of emotion which relates 
to the daily life of men and women ; there are de- 
spairs and exaltations and sorrows and hopes, and 
the furious energy of ambition, and the weariness 
of resignation, but they are the emotions of some- 
one incorporeal, and their sphere of action is 
among winds and clouds, the colours of sky and 



SCEPTICISMS 

sea, the glittering of rain and jewels, and not 
among the perplexed hearts of humanity. In a 
sense it is like the symbolism of such poets as 
Mallarme, but with the difference that here the 
symbols have no meaning. It is a sort of absolute 
poetry, a poetry of detached waver and brilliance, 
a beautiful flowering of language alone, a par- 
thenogenesis, as if language were fertilized by 
itself rather than by thought or feeling. Remove 
the magic of phrase and sound, and there is 
nothing left: no thread of continuity, no relation 
between one page and the next, no thought, no 
story, no emotion. But the magic of phrase and 
sound is powerful, and it takes one into a fantastic 
world where one is ethereal ized, where one has 
deep emotions indeed, but emotions star-powdered, 
and blown to flame by speed and intensity rather 
than by thought or human warmth. 

Unfortunately it is only for a little while that a 
poet can be so completely possessed by the subcon- 
scious: the more complete the possession the more 
rapid the exhaustion. One or two of Mr. 
Fletcher's colour symphonies showed already a 
flagging of energy, and in addition to the uneven- 
ness which is inevitable in a blind obedience to the 
lead of word-association alone (since it leads as 



JOHN GOULD FLETCHER 

often to verbosity as to magic) that unevenness 
also is noticed which comes of the poet's attempt 
to substitute the consciously for the unconsciously 
found an attempt which for such a temperament 
as Mr. Fletcher's is frequently doomed to failure. 
There are limits, moreover, as we have seen, to 
the number of themes which will draw out the 
best of the possessed type of poet. Failing to dis- 
cover new themes, he must repeat the old ones; 
and here it is not long before he feels his con- 
sciousness intruding, and saying to him, "You 
have said this before," a consciousness which at 
once inhibits the unravelling of word-association, 
and brings him back to that more deliberate sort of 
art for which he is not so well fitted. It is to this 
point that Mr. Fletcher has come, recently in "Jap- 
anese Prints," and now in "The Tree of Life." 
Here and there for a moment is a flash of magic 
and power there are pages, even whole poems, 
which are only less delightful than the symphonies 
but intermingled with how much that is lame, 
stiltedly metrical, verbose, or downright ugly. 
The use of regular metre or rhyme brings him 
down with a thud. . . . "The Tree of Life" is a 
volume of love poems, more personal than Mr. 
Fletcher has given us hitherto, and that has an 



SCEPTICISMS 

interest of its own. But the colourism has begun 
to dim, it is often merely a wordy and tediously 
overcrowded imitation of the coloured swiftness of 
"Goblins and Pagodas," the images indistinct and 
conflicting; and if one is to hope for further 
brilliance it is not in this but in a new note, audible 
here and there in the shorter lyrics, a note of iron- 
like resonance, bitterly personal, and written in a 
free verse akin to the stark eloquence of Biblical 
prose. . . . Are these lyrics an earnest of further 
development, and will Mr. Fletcher pass to that 
other plane of art, that of the possessor artist, the 
artist who foresees and forges, who calculates his 
effects'? There is hardly enough evidence here to 
make one sure. 



IX 

The Technique of Polyphonic 
Prose: Amy Lowell 

MISS LOWELL can always be delight- 
fully counted upon to furnish us with 
something of a literary novelty. She 
has a genius for vivifying theory. No sooner, for 
example, had she uttered the words "Free verse !" 
(which previously in the mouth of Mr. Pound had 
left us cold) than we closed about them as a crowd 
closes upon an accident, in a passion of curiosity; 
and if ultimately some of us were a little dis- 
appointed with the theory more shrewdly in- 
spected, we could be thankful at least that it had 
left us Miss Lowell's poems. So now, with the 
publication of "Can Grande's Castle" "four mod- 
ern epics," as the publishers term them Miss 
Lowell bids fair to stampede us anew under the 
banner of "polyphonic prose." This is an as- 
tonishing book; never was Miss Lowell's sheer 



SCEPTICISMS 

energy of mind more in evidence. Viewed simply 
as a piece of verbal craftsmanship it is a sort of 
Roget's Thesaurus of colour. Viewed as a piece of 
historical reconstruction it is a remarkable feat of 
documentation, particularly the longest of the 
"epics," the story of the bronze horses of San 
Marco. Viewed as poetry, or prose, or polyphonic 
prose or let us say, for caution's sake, as litera- 
ture well, that is another question. It is a 
tribute to Miss Lowell's fecundity of mind that 
one must react to her four prose-poems in so great 
a variety of ways. 

Miss Lowell has always been outspokenly a 
champion of the theory that a large part of an 
artist's equipment is hard work, patient and unim- 
passioned craftsmanship. This is true, and Miss 
Lowell's own poetry can always be counted upon 
to display, within its known and unchangeable 
limitations, a verbal, an aesthetic, and even, at 
moments, a metrical craftsmanship, of a high or- 
der. Whether viewed technically or not, her 
work is always, and particularly to an artist, in- 
triguing and suggestive: this much one can safely 
say in advance. When we begin, however, to 
assume toward her work that attitude which con- 
sists in an attempt to see the contemporary as 



AMY LOWELL 

later, through the perspective of time, it will 
appear to posterity, we change our ground some- 
what. Novelty must be discounted ; and exquisite 
tool-work must be seen not as if through the micro- 
scope but in its properly ancillary position as a 
contributing element in the artist's total success or 
failure. This is in effect to judge as we can of 
the artist's sensibility and mental character not 
an easy thing to do. The judge must see over 
the walls of his own personality. Fortunately, 
aesthetic judgment is not entirely solipsistic, but is 
in part guided by certain aesthetic laws, vague but 
none the less usable. 

Miss Lowell asserts in her preface that poly- 
phonic prose is not an order of prose. Let us not 
quarrel with her on this point. The important 
questions are: first, its possible effectiveness as an 
art form; and second, its effectiveness as employed 
through the temperament of Miss Lowell. She 
says : 

Metrical verse has one set of laws, cadenced verse 
another, polyphonic prose can go from one to the other 
in the same poem with no sense of incongruity. Its only 
touchstone is the taste and feeling of its author. . . . 
Yet, like all other artistic forms, it has certain funda- 
mental principles, and the chief of these is an insistence 



SCEPTICISMS 

on the absolute adequacy of a passage to the thought it 
embodies. Taste is therefore its determining factor; 
taste and a rhythmic ear. 

But all this is merely equivalent to saying that any 
expression of the artist is inevitably self-ex- 
pression, as if one "threw the nerves in patterns 
on a screen." The real touchstone of a work of 
art is not, ultimately, the taste or feeling of the 
author (a singularly unreliable judge) but the 
degree to which it "gets across," (as they say of 
the drama) to, let us say, an intelligent audience. 
And here one may properly question whether in 
their totality Miss Lowell's prose-poems quite "get 
across." They are brilliant, in the aesthetic sense; 
they are amazingly rich and frequently delightful 
in incident; they are unflaggingly visualized; they 
are, in a manner, triumphs of co-ordination. And 
yet, they do not quite come off. Why is this*? 
Is it the fault of Miss Lowell or of the form 1 ? A 
little of each; and the reasons are many. Of the 
more obvious sort is the simple but deadly fact 
that without exception these four prose-poems are 
too long. Not too long in an absolute sense, for 
that would be ridiculous, but too long, first, in 
relation to the amount and nature of the narrative 
element in them, and second, in relation to the 

["83 



AMY LOWELL 

manner, or style, in which they are written. Par- 
allels are not easy to find ; but one can perhaps not 
outrageously adduce Flaubert's "Herodias" and 
"Salammbo" as examples of success in what is very 
much the same, not form, but tone of art. Miss 
Lowell, like Flaubert, attempts a very vivid and 
heavily laden reconstruction of striking historical 
events. No item is too small to be recreated for 
its effect in producing a living and sensuous 
veridity. But there are two important differences. 
In Flaubert this living sensuousness is nearly al- 
ways subordinated to the narrative, is indeed 
merely the background for it; whereas for Miss 
Lowell this sensuous reconstruction is perhaps the 
main intention. And furthermore, whereas Flau- 
bert employed a prose of which the chief purpose 
was that it should be unobtrusively a vehicle, Miss 
Lowell employs a prose bristlingly self-conscious, 
of which an important purpose is stylistic and 
colouristic brilliance. 

The defects that arise from these two differences 
are very serious. They combine to rob Miss 
Lowell of the fruits to which sheer adroitness of 
craftsmanship might otherwise have entitled her. 
Put briefly, these poems are over-descriptive. 
When one considers their length, the narrative 



SCEPTICISMS 

element is much too slight; and not only that, it 
is too disjointed. Narrative description, even 
though able, is not enough. In "Sea-Blue and 
Blood-Red" Miss Lowell introduces a really nar- 
rative theme narrative, that is, in the sense that it 
involves real dramatis personae, in the persons of 
Nelson and Lady Hamilton and in consequence 
the reader's interest is a good deal better held. It 
would be still better held however if the pro- 
tagonists had been conceived less as gaudily 
sheathed mannequins, gesticulating feverishly in a 
whirl of coloured lights and confetti, and more as 
human beings. It is intended to show them as 
puppets, of course, but that effect would hardly 
have been diminished by making them psycholog- 
ically more appealing. In "Hedge Island," 
"Guns as Keys," and "Bronze Horses" the unify- 
ing themes are still more tenuous : the supersession 
of the stagecoach by the train, Commodore Perry's 
voyage to Japan, the travels of the four horses of 
San Marco. All of them are acute studies of 
societal change. One feels in all of them the im- 
pressiveness of the conception, but in the actual 
execution the impressiveness has partially escaped. 
One is, in fact, less often impressed than fatigued. 
And this fatigue, as above intimated, is due not 



AMY LOWELL 

merely to the lack of humanly interesting narra- 
tive (as would be added by the introduction of a 
character or group of characters who should enlist 
our sympathies throughout) but also to the nature 
of the style which Miss Lowell uses. For here 
Miss Lowell, led astray by love of experiment, 
has made, in the opinion of the present reviewer, 
a series of fundamental errors. The style she has 
chosen to use, whether regarded with a view to 
rhythm or to colour-distribution, is essentially 
pointillistic. Now Miss Lowell should have 
known that the pointillistic style is, in literature, 
suited only to very brief movements. A short 
poem based on this method may be brilliantly suc- 
cessful; Miss Lowell has herself proved it. A 
long poem based on this method, even though sus- 
tainedly brilliant, and perhaps in direct ratio to its 
brilliance, almost inevitably becomes dull. In her 
preface Miss Lowell says that she has taken for 
the basis of her rhythm the long cadence of ora- 
torical prose. In this however she is mistaken. 
She has an inveterate and profoundly tempera- 
mental and hence perhaps unalterable addiction to 
a short, ejaculatory, and abrupt style a style in- 
deed of which the most striking merits and defects 
are its vigorous curtness and its almost total lack 

[121] 



SCEPTICISMS 

of curve and grace. This is true of her work 
whether in metrical verse, free verse, or prose; it 
is as true of "The Cremona Violin" as of "The 
Bombardment." This style, obviously, is ideal 
for a moment of rapid action or extreme emotional 
intensity. But its effect when used passim is not 
only fatiguing, it is actually irritating. Its pace 
is too often out of all proportion to the pace of the 
action. One feels like a horse who is at the same 
time whipped up and reined in. The restlessness 
is perpetual, there is no hope of relaxation or ease, 
one longs in vain for a slowing down of the 
movement, an expansion of it into longer and 
more languid waves. One longs, too, for that 
delicious sublimation of tranquillity and pause 
which comes of a beautiful transition from the 
exclamatory to the contemplative, from the rigidly 
angular to the musically curved. 

This misapplication of style to theme manifests 
itself as clearly on the narrowly aesthetic plane as 
on the rhythmic. Here again one sees a misuse 
of pointillism, for Miss Lowell splashes too much 
colour, uses colour and vivid image too unrestrain- 
edly and too much at the same pitch of intensity. 
The result is that the rate of aesthetic fatigue on the 
reader's part is relatively rapid. So persistent is 



AMY LOWELL 

Miss Lowell's colouristic attitude, so nearly un- 
varied is her habit of presenting people, things, 
and events in terms of colour alone, that presently 
she has reduced one to a state of colour blindness. 
Image kills image, hue obliterates hue, one page 
erases another. And when this point has been 
reached one realizes that Miss Lowell's polyphonic 
prose has little else to offer. Its sole raison 
d'etre is its vividness. 

One wonders, indeed, whether Miss Lowell has 
not overestimated the possibilities of this form. 
It is precisely at those points where polyphonic 
prose is more self-conscious or artificial than or- 
dinary prose where it introduces an excess of 
rhyme, assonance, and alliteration that it is 
most markedly inferior to it. Theory to the con- 
trary, these shifts from prose to winged prose or 
verse are often so abrupt as to be incongruous and 
disturbing. But disturbance as an element in 
aesthetic attack should be subordinate, not domi- 
nant the exception, not the rule. Miss Lowell's 
polyphonic prose is a perpetual furor of disturb- 
ance, both of thought and of style. Again, re- 
frain should be sparely used, adroitly varied and 
concealed; and the counterpoint of thought, if it 
is not to become monotonous, must be a good deal 

D23] 



SCEPTICISMS 

subtler than it is, for instance, in "Bronze Horses." 
All these artifices are used to excess, and the up- 
shot is a style of which the most salient character- 
istic is exuberance without charm. "Taste" and 
"rhythmic ear" too frequently fail. And one is 
merely amused when one encounters a passage like 
the following: 

Such a pounding, pummelling, pitching, pointing, pierc- 
ing, pushing, pelting, poking, panting, punching, parry- 
ing, pulling, prodding, puking, piling, passing, you never 
did see. 

It is hard to regard this as anything but tyronism. 
These are the main features of the artistic in- 
completeness of "Can Grande's Castle." One 
could analyse it further, of course one thinks, for 
example, of Miss Lowell's habit, when tempted to 
use a simile, of comparing the larger thing to the 
smaller, as the sea or the sky to a flower; the effect 
of which is not at all what is intended, and very 
unpleasant. A simile may be successful in point 
of colour, and yet fail because of its ineptitude on 
another plane, as by suggesting rigidity when 
liquidity is desired, or minuteness when it is 
desired to suggest spaciousness. But this is ele- 
mentary, a minor point, and it is time to return 



AMY LOWELL 

to our starting place, and to reiterate what has 
perhaps in this prolonged analysis been lost sight 
of; namely, that even what is relatively a failure 
for Miss Lowell is none the less brilliant, and 
would suffice to make the reputation of a lesser 
poet. "Can Grande's Castle" is a remarkable 
book, a book which every one interested in the di- 
rection of contemporary poetry should read, 
whether for its own sake or for its value as the 
test of a new form of art. 



X 

Poetry as Supernaturalism: 
William Stanley Braithwaite 

THE energy of Mr. Braithwaite is unflag- 
ging. Not content with bringing out 
annually the "Anthology of Magazine 
Verse," he has lately entered upon another and 
even huger enterprise "A Critical Anthology," he 
calls it; and this, too, threatens to become a hardy 
perennial. In these four hundred pages, which 
for the greater part consist of his reviews in the 
Boston Evening Transcript, slightly revised and 
cast into the form of al fresco conversations 
between Mr. Braithwaite and three others, Mr. 
Braithwaite purports to cover the entire field of 
English and American poetry for 1916. Some 
fifty odd poets are discussed here, a list long 
enough surely to have included certain poets whose 
omission seems singular enough to warrant a more 
specific explanation than Mr. Braithwaite offers. 
[126] 



WILLIAM BRAITHWAITE 

Mr. Robert Frost and Mr. Wilfrid Wilson Gibson 
come in for only incidental mention. Messrs. 
Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and Maxwell 
Bodenheim (whose work has appeared in anthol- 
ogies) are not mentioned at all. With these ex- 
ceptions, however, the list is complete enough to 
afford us a clear idea of Mr. Braithwaite's temper 
and method. 

Concerning his predilections, Mr. Braithwaite 
leaves us in no doubt whatever. At the very centre 
of his attitude toward poetry is the express belief 
that poetry is a sort of supernaturalism. "It is 
the sacerdotal wonder of life which poets feel," 
he remarks. "More certainly than other men, 
poets are conscious of pre-existence, in other 
worlds, and in this too." Elsewhere, one en- 
counters also such expressions as "reverence for 
life," "quest for beauty," and "mystic illumina- 
tion." This sort of thing, one must confess, is a 
little too easy. Is it not really a shrugging of the 
critic's burden from his own shoulders, onto the 
shoulders of God? This is no place, to be sure, 
for a quarrel over the importance or the reality of 
God ; but it is perhaps not going too far to say that 
within the sphere of man's consciousness, no mat- 
ter to what miraculous origin it be ascribed, all 



SCEPTICISMS 

things are at least subject to man's observation 
and analysis. If in the presence of a piece of 
poetry the critic is content merely with the ex- 
clamatory, he is not doing his work. Let him 
remember that he is dealing, at least in large 
measure, not with the supernatural but with the 
natural; and what is natural has natural 
(biological and psychological) causes. These it 
is the critic's duty to determine and to relate. 

It is easy to see, therefore, where, in his relation 
to contemporary poetry, so fundamental a failure 
leads Mr. Braithwaite. With this somewhat 
quaint notion of the holiness of poetry in his 
head it is natural that he should be most tolerant 
toward that sort of poetry which itself, in some- 
what the same manner, takes for granted the 
not-to-be-questioned holiness of life. In his 
present book, therefore, Mr. Braithwaite puts 
a clear emotional emphasis on work which is 
characteristically sentimental. Lizette Wood- 
worth Reese, Bliss Carman, Amelia Josephine 
Burr, Olive Til ford Dargan, Louis V. Ledoux, 
Hermann Hagedorn, these are some of the 
poets about whom Mr. Braithwaite can talk 
with unrestrained enthusiasm. They, and to a 
less extent Edwin Arlington Robinson, observe 



WILLIAM BRAITHWAITE 

toward life, in varying degrees, an attitude of 
chaste, romantic awe; and it is this attitude, par- 
ticularly when it approaches the sweetly ecstatic 
or appears to be barely concealing a sob, that most 
delights Mr. Braithwaite. Consequently, such 
other poets as Edgar Lee Masters, Orrick Johns, 
William Carlos Williams, and the unmentioned 
Carl Sandburg, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, 
John Rodker, and other poets of the "Others" 
group, who are in the main realists, implicitly criti- 
cal or analytical of life, or at the most neutrally 
receptive, are somewhat coolly entertained. Of 
Mr. Masters Mr. Braithwaite remarks, character- 
istically, that he "de-affinitizes imagination of 
mystery"; of the poets who contributed to 
"Others," that they do not deal with life "but 
with their own little conception of it," which, of 
course, is precisely what all poets do. To Bliss 
Carman, on the other hand, he ascribes "magic," 
"natural symbolisms with . . . supernatural 
meanings. . . ." Clearly, such an attitude reveals 
in Mr. Braithwaite a very decided intellectual 
limitation. Must poetry be all marshmallows and 
tears? Is it to be prohibited from dealing with 
ideas, or restricted solely to a contemplation of 
that small part of our lives which is, in a senti- 



SCEPTICISMS 

mental sense, beautiful? Is poetry to be merely 
a perfume reserved for our moments of languor"? 
Mr. Braithwaite might not say "yes" to this ques- 
tion as it stands, but if it were put in a slightly 
different form, he would. And in consequence, 
try as he will, he cannot be entirely fair to our 
contemporary empiricists. Even in his discussion 
of such poets as John Gould Fletcher and Miss 
Lowell, amiable and even adulatory as (oddly 
enough) it sometimes is, one detects a fundamental 
perplexity and lack of understanding. 

The trouble with this book is, then, at bottom, 
that while it has a rather intriguing appearance 
of being judicial, it is really, under the mask, 
highly idiosyncratic. This might be redeemed if 
Mr. Braithwaite, in any part of his work, showed 
himself to be an interpreter possessed of subtlety 
or persuasiveness. Unfortunately that cannot be 
said. Mr. Braithwaite has, to begin with, a 
singular incapacity for perceiving the real mean- 
ings of words. He uses words in an orotund, 
meaningless way; words like "essence," "sub- 
stance," "mystery," "symbolism," are for ever on 
his tongue. For this reason a great part of his 
book is thin reading; it is often impossible, except 



WILLIAM BRAITHWAITE 

through the exercise of considerable imagination, 
to get any meaning out of it whatever. It is 
possible indeed that his inability to associate words 
precisely with the ideas for which they stand is 
the central secret of Mr. Braithwaite's failure as a 
critic : the cloudy inaccuracy of style may well be 
simply another aspect of an attitude of mind which 
has determined his predilection for vaguely inter- 
pretative rather than judicial criticism. It may 
equally account for the extraordinary lack of dis- 
crimination which leads him to discuss, not so 
many kinds of art (which would be merely 
catholic), but so many qualities of art, as if 
on one level of excellence. Brilliant, good, 
mediocre, and downright bad ; subtle and common- 
place; cerebral and sentimental, all are treated 
as of equal importance, and, apparently (as indi- 
cated by the last pair of contrasted terms), with- 
out any keen awareness of their differences. When 
he is beyond his depth, Mr. Braithwaite simply 
takes refuge in words. "Every sense is evocative 
and intuitional," he says. "Mysticism and won- 
der are the vital nerves which connect the outer 
world of reality with the inner world of spirit. 
Does it matter how the substance is shaped, so 



SCEPTICISMS 

long as it is given a being?" This is mere word- 
blowing; and Mr. Braithwaite's book is full of 
syllogisms equally ghostly. 

Shall we never learn that there is nothing mys- 
terious or supernatural about poetry; that it is a 
natural, organic product, with discoverable func- 
tions, clearly open to analysis? It would be a 
pity if our critics and poets were to leave this 
to the scientists instead of doing it themselves. 



XI 

. Romantic Traditionalism: 
Alan Seeger 

IF Freud's theory of the artist is correct that 
the artist is one in whom the pleasure prin- 
ciple of childhood never gives way to the 
reality principle of maturity then we have a 
particularly typical artist, in this sense, in Alan 
Seeger. Alan Seeger was one of that large class 
who never see the world as it is, who always see 
it as they wish it to be. To a considerable extent 
that is true of all of us. We all remain children 
at least in part. The difference between the nor- 
mal human being (if there is any) and the artist 
is merely quantitative; the artist, in addition to 
his power of speech, keeps more of the child's in- 
stinct for living in the imagination, for avoiding 
contact with the somewhat harsh or, at any rate, 
indifferent world of reality. There is, of course, 
another type of artist the type to which Shake- 

D333 



SCEPTICISMS 

speare, Euripides, Balzac, Turgenev and Mere- 
dith belong which develops the pleasure prin- 
ciple and reality principle side by side, achieving 
the perfect balance which we call greatness. 
That type is rare and for the present does not 
concern us. 

Alan Seeger belongs conspicuously to the 
former class. He was sensitive, retiring, idiosyn- 
cratic, lived very much if not exclusively in books 
during his youth, and developed the art of self- 
delusion to an extraordinary pitch. He cut him- 
self off almost entirely from the real world of 
real (and, from his viewpoint, somewhat uninter- 
esting) men and women, and equally so from any 
intellectual contact with it. An aesthetic attitude 
was all he believed in assuming toward the world 
which he was capable of perceiving, and in conse- 
quence he devoted his energies to the perfecting of 
himself as a sensorium. Thought, no doubt, 
seemed to him a thing essentially painful and to 
be avoided. The result of this characteristic in 
his poetry is precisely what we should expect. It 
is somewhat archaically romantic; mellifluous, al- 
ways, in the effort to be sensuously decorative; a 
little self-consciously poetic. It is the kind of 
poetry which begins by omitting all words which 



ALAN SEEGER 

seem to belong to prose ; it divides speech into two 
classes, poetic and prosaic, and selects for its 
artificial purpose only the lovely (when taste is at 
its best) or the merely sensuous or pretty (when 
taste subsides a little). One gets, therefore, in 
reading Seeger's poems a mild and never intense 
pleasure. Vague sights and sounds, vague because 
somewhat cloudily seen and heard by the poet, 
flow past in pleasant rhythms. Nothing disturbs. 
All is as liquid and persuasive as drifting in a 
gondola. There are no ideas to take hold of, no 
emotions so intense as to shake one's repose. One 
has a drowsy impression of trees, flowers, ponds, 
clouds, blue sky, old walls, lutes; and youth in the 
foreground engaged in a faintly melancholy 
anguish of love. The tone of these poems, 
whether in the fragmentary and static narratives, 
or in the measured sonnets, seldom varies. 

In short, Alan Seeger was a belated romantic 
poet and a romantic poet without any peculiar 
originality. He had a keen ear, a flexible 
technique but nothing new to say, and no new 
way of saying what had been said before. His 
verse, throughout, is a verse of close approxima- 
tions; it is always mother-of-pearl, but seldom 
pearl. 

D353 



XII 

A Pointless Pointillist: Ezra 
Pound 

IF one might conceive, in the heliotrope future, 
any Ph. Demon so inspired as to set about 
compiling a list of dull books by interesting 
authors, one could hardly doubt that Ezra 
Pound's "Pavannes and Divisions" would be his 
first entry. An incredible performance! Some- 
how, one has had all these years (for alas, Mr. 
Pound's indiscretions can no longer be called the 
indiscretions of youth) the impression that this 
King-Maker among poets was quite the most 
mercurial of our performers. One associated with 
his name the deftest of jugglery, sleights of mind 
without number, lightning-like tergiversatility, 
and a genius for finding the latest procession and 
leading it attired in the most dazzling of colours. 
Of course, Mr. Pound has himself been at some 
pains to encourage us in this view. As a publicist 

[1363 



EZRA POUND 

he has few equals. But surely it has not been 
entirely a deception! . . . And nevertheless he 
comes now upon us with "Pavannes and Divi- 
sions" "a collection," says Mr. Knopf, "of the 
best prose written by Mr. Pound during the last six 
years" and therewith threatens, if we are not 
careful, to destroy our illusions about him for ever. 

For, regrettable as is the confession, the out- 
standing feature of this book of prose is its 
dulness. One reads more and more slowly, en- 
countering always heavier obstacles, and short 
of a major effort of the will (and a kind of amazed 
curiosity) one finally stops. Intrinsically there- 
fore one may say at once that the book is without 
value. If one is to examine it carefully, one does 
so for quite another reason; namely, because Mr. 
Pound is himself an interesting figure (observe 
his portrait in this volume, so elaborately and 
theatrically posed) a curious representative of 
homo sapiens, and without any doubt a poet who 
has (sometimes severely) influenced his fellow 
poets. "Pavannes and Divisions" shall be to us 
therefore what the soliloquies of the patient are to 
the psychoanalyst. 

If we pass over the unoriginal parts of this book 
the clever translation of Laforgue, and the well- 



SCEPTICISMS 

selected dialogues of Fontanelle, amusing but nu- 
gatory and if we listen with concentrated atten- 
tion to the Mr. Pound who chatters to us, alter- 
nately, in the lumberingly metrical and crudely 
satirical doggerel of "L'Homme Moyen Sensuel," 
or the disjointed and aimless prose of the essays 
and fables, what emerges from this babble*? A 
portrait, sharp-featured as Mr. Pound's frontis- 
piece, but how infinitely more complex a portrait 
which surely not even a Vorticist could compass. 
One is reminded, indeed, of Mr. Sludge, so inex- 
tricably the most sterling platitudes and the most 
brazen quackeries (no doubt believed in) are here 
commingled. Add to this that Mr. Pound, like a 
jack-in-the-box, takes a nai've delight in booing at 
the stately; that he has the acquisitive instincts of 
the jackdaw (with a passion for bright and shin- 
ing objects, particularly those spied from a very 
great distance) ; that he is unhappy unless he can 
be rebelling at something or somebody (even at 
himself of the day before yesterday and this is 
healthy) ; and finally that as a poet he has genius, 
and has given us more than a handful of beautiful 
lyrics and one begins to perceive that Mr. 
Pound's middle name should have been not 
Loomis but Proteus. Those to whom Mr. Pound 

[1383 



EZRA POUND 

is a thorn in the flesh will say that it is amazing 
that the poet of "Cathay" should, in "Pavannes 
and Divisions," reveal himself so hopelessly as of 
third-rate mentality : those who are charitable will 
say that if a poet is to live he must also be a jour- 
nalist. There is no chance for an argument, since 
one cannot possibly tell how seriously "Pavannes 
and Divisions" is intended. But if one cannot 
read Mr. Pound's intentions, his accomplishment 
is obvious and disillusioning. If a poet must be a 
journalist, let him be a good one ! And this Mr. 
Pound is not. 

For in point of style, or manner, or whatever, it 
is difficult to imagine anything much worse than 
the prose of Mr. Pound. It is ugliness and awk- 
wardness incarnate. Did he always write so 
badly? One recollects better moments in his his- 
tory and one even now finds him, as in the first 
paragraph of his paper on Dolmetsch, making a 
music of prose. For the secret of this decay one 
must turn, as in all such cases, to the nature of 
the man's mind, since style is not a mere applica- 
tion or varnish but the unconscious expression of 
a nature. And here is encountered one of Mr. 
Pound's chief characteristics, one that has from 
the very beginning been steadily growing upon 



SCEPTICISMS 

him and it might be added steadily strangling 
his creative instinct. This characteristic is his 
passion for the decisive. His strokes are all of 
an equal weight and finality. On the sensory 
plane this first manifested itself, no doubt, as a 
desire for the single and brilliant image. In logic 
or dialectics it became a passion for the point, glit- 
tering and deadly. In the field of aesthetics it has 
revealed itself as a need for espousing the out-of- 
the-way and remote and exceptional, so as to add a 
sort of impact and emphasis to personality by a 
solitariness of opinion : it is more striking to play a 
tune on the Chinese p'i-pa than on the banjo. On 
these several planes this instinctive appetite has 
become more and more voracious, more and more 
exclusive, until finally it has reached a point where 
it threatens to leave Mr. Pound little else. His 
poetry has become imageless through excess of im- 
age image too deliberately sought. His prose 
has become pointless and merely fatiguing be- 
cause of his effort to point every sentence : it has 
become a sort of chevaux de frise, impossible to 
walk through. These are failures which, one 
would think, the artist in Mr. Pound would have 
foreseen. In prose it is a failure made all the 
more complete by the fact that the pointillist style 



EZRA POUND 

was the last style for which he was intellectually 
fitted. Without the patience for careful analysis, 
or the acumen and precision and breadth for sci- 
entific investigation, this method makes of him 
merely a subjectivist pedant, a tinkling sciolist, 
and what is more amazing for the man who 
wrote "Cathay" an apostle of the jejune and 
sterile. For so intent has Mr. Pound become on 
this making of points and cutting of images that he 
has gradually crystallized from them a cold and 
hard doctrine, a doctrine of negative virtues, aimed 
primarily against aesthetic excess, but in the upshot 
totally inimical to that spontaneity and opulence 
without which art is still-born. In short, Mr. 
Pound has become, as regards style, a purist of 
the most deadly sort. So absorbed has he become 
in the minutiae of aesthetics, so fetichistic in his 
adoration of literary nugae, that he has gradually 
come to think of style and filigree as if the terms 
were synonymous. This is the more lamentable 
because his aesthetics, as revealed in his prose, are 
by no means subtle. One cannot rear a palace of 
filigree: nor can one compose a Hamlet or a Tyl 
Eulenspiegel entirely of velleities and evanescent 
nuances. Young authors, let us grant with Mr. 
Pound, must learn to be artisans before they can 



SCEPTICISMS 

complete themselves as artists. But at the point 
where purism stifles exuberance and richness (the 
intense confession of the sub-conscious) and at the 
point where, as an aesthetic measure, it prefers the 
neatly made to the well-felt or the profoundly 
thought, it becomes obviously vicious. 

It is the critic's license ta over-refine his point 
for the sake of emphasis, and this perhaps, in the 
present case, we have clearly done. To restore the 
balance somewhat we should add that, though by 
no means profound, Mr. Pound is provocative and 
suggestive in his essays on the troubadours and the 
Elizabethan translators, and refreshing in his pa- 
pers on Dolmetsch and Remy de Gourmont. 
After all, is he perhaps, in his prose, deliberately 
a journalist^ . . . And we remember with grati- 
tude that he is a poet. 



XIII 

Poetic Realism: Carl Sandburg 

IT is one of the anomalies of the present poetic 
revival in this country that it is not domi- 
nated by any one single group or tendency, 
but shared in and fought for by many : classicists, 
romanticists, and realists, of varying degrees of 
radicalism, all exist simultaneously, so that we 
have a spectacle to which perhaps no era was ever 
before treated, a complete cycle of poetic evolu- 
tion presented not in the usual span of two cen- 
turies, more or less, but in the space of two years. 
Those who are interested in poetry are today per- 
mitted to watch a three-ringed circus, and to dis- 
tribute their applause as they please; with a fair 
certainty that they will find something worth ap- 
plauding. The rivalry is keen. Nobody will 
hazard a guess as to which ring will dominate the 
circus. But so long as the competitors are goaded 
on by the feats of their rivals to new and more 
astonishing acrobatics, it does not so much matter. 



SCEPTICISMS 

More akin to Mr. Masters, perhaps, than to 
Mr. Frost, Carl Sandburg nevertheless has char- 
acter of his own, whatever we think of his work 
we cannot deny that it is individual, that it has 
the raciness of originality. The cumulative effect 
is one of vigour, a certain harshness bordering on 
the sadistic, a pleasant quality of sensuousness in 
unexpected places, ethical irony, and sentimen- 
tality. Mr. Sandburg is a socialist, and consist- 
ently preaches socialist morals. Next to his de- 
ficiencies as regards form, it is perhaps Mr. Sand- 
burg's greatest fault that he allows the poet to be 
out-talked by the sociologist. If Tennyson is now 
regarded as a tiresome moral sentimentalist, who 
knows whether a future generation, to whom many 
of Mr. Sandburg's dreams may have become reali- 
ties, will not so regard Mr. Sandburg 1 ? That is 
the danger, always, of being doctrinaire. Doc- 
trine is interesting only when new. 

Mr. Sandburg restricts himself almost entirely 
to free verse: among free verse writers he is the 
realist, as the Imagists are the romanticists. But 
the free verse of the Imagists is a highly complex 
and formal vehicle by comparison with Mr. Sand- 
burg's free verse: it is comparatively seldom that 
Mr. Sandburg betrays anything more than a rather 

D44] 



CARL SANDBURG 

rudimentary sense of balance or echo. For the 
most part, he employs a colloquial, colourful jour- 
nalese prose, arranged either in successsions of 
sharply periodic sentences, each sentence compos- 
ing one verse-line, or in very long and often 
clumsy sentences formed of successive suspended 
clauses, a suspense which he ultimately relieves 
by a return to the periodic. In other words, Mr. 
Sandburg is so intent on saying, without hindrance 
whatsoever, precisely what he has it in his mind 
to say, that he will not submit to the restraints of 
any intricate verse-form, even of his own inven- 
tion, but spreads out in a sort of gnomic prose. 
There are exceptions, of course : in such poems as 
"Sketch," "Lost," "Fog," "White Shoulders," 
"Graves," "Monotone," "Follies," "Nocturne in 
a Deserted Brickyard," "Poppies," and there are 
others, too, there is movement, balance, some- 
times a return by repetition, sometimes a return by 
echo. But even in these the movement, balance 
and return are often those of a rhetorical and oro- 
tund prose rather than of verse. The rhythm is 
slurred, unaccented, in fact a prose rhythm, with 
interspersions of single lines or groups of lines 
which rise to a simple cantabile sometimes a little 
astonishing in the context. These are Mr. Sand- 

D45] 



SCEPTICISMS 

burg's lyric moments the moments when the sen- 
timental Sandburg masters the ethical or ironic 
Sandburg. Some of the poems listed above, and 
others, such as "Pals," "Gone" (which has a de- 
lightful balance), "Used Up," "Margaret," are al- 
most completely rhythmic, rhythmic in a simple 
and unsubtle sense, with a regular and easily fol- 
lowed ictus. These are short flights, they suggest, 
as indeed all of Mr. Sandburg's work suggests, 
the penguin aeroplanes in which novice aviators 
are trained: at the maximum speed the penguin 
barely manages to lift from the ground, and to 
achieve a sort of skipping glide. 

Now, if these observations on Mr. Sandburg's 
technique are in any measure accurate, it becomes 
important to know whether for his sacrifice of 
form Mr. Sandburg receives sufficient compensa- 
tion from the increased freedom of speech thus ob- 
tained. Has Mr. Sandburg by sacrifice of those 
qualities of verse which appeal to the ear, and in 
some measure to the eye, been enabled to say any- 
thing which could not have been said more beau- 
tifully, or more forcefully, by a keener use of sym- 
metry*? For the present critic the answer must, 
on the whole, be negative. In a general sense, 
Mr. Sandburg's material is the material of Frost, 

[1463 



CARL SANDBURG 

Masters, Gibson, Masefield : the dominant charac- 
teristic of all five men is the search for colour and 
pathos in the lives of the commonplace. Mr. 
Sandburg is less selective, that is all, he spills in 
the chaff with the wheat. With much that is 
clear, hard, colourful, suggestive, there is much 
also that is muddy, extraneous, and dull. The 
other members of the realist school use the same 
material, but, being defter artists, use it better. 
What Mr. Sandburg adds is the sociological ele- 
ment, which is the least valuable part of his book. 
Ethics and art cannot be married. 

In this, I think, we get at the whole secret of 
Mr. Sandburg's weakness : he does not completely 
synthesize, or crystallize his poems. He always 
gives too much, goes too far. His poetic concep- 
tion is not sufficiently sharp, and in consequence 
his speech cannot always be sufficiently symmetri- 
cal or intense to be called poetic speech. Clear 
thought brings clear expression, and the converse 
also is true, as Croce says. Something of the sort 
is true of the writing of poetry. The clearer, the 
more intense the emotion or idea, the more direct, 
forceful, beautiful, and rhythmic will be the ex- 
pression of it. By a graded scale one passes from 
the more to the less intense, and that is the pas- 

D47] 



SCEPTICISMS 

sage from poetry to prose. Examine carefully 
even the more rhythmic of Mr. Sandburg's poems, 
and you will almost invariably find, even in poems 
of four lines or less, that the poem can be im- 
proved by the omission of one or more lines, one or 
more ideas, which only cloud the mood. It is no 
use arguing that Mr. Sandburg deliberately adopts 
this cumulative and arhythmic method, as Whit- 
man did, out of genuine belief that such a method 
is truer, or subtler, than any other. The fact is 
that in such cases the temperament comes first, the 
theory afterwards: we write in such and such a 
way because it is the only way in which we can 
write. If we can then persuade others that our 
way is best, so much the better for us. 

Classification is apt to seem more important 
than it really is. It has been many times said 
during the past few years that it does not so much 
matter whether a work be called poetry or prose, 
provided it be true, or beautiful. This study 
might be closed, then, by simply asking a question : 
is Mr. Sandburg a realistic poet, or a poetic real- 
ist*? It is of no importance that the question be 
answered. It is only important, perhaps, that it 
shall have been asked. 

D48] 



XIV 

A Note on the Evolution of 
a Poet: John Masefield 

THE hasty critic who, when "Good Friday" 
was published, lamented that book as final 
proof of the decline of Mr. Masefield, 
meets something of a poser in "Lollingdon 
Downs." Mr. Masefield is of that type of crea- 
tive artist which is most distressing to the critic 
with a mania for classifying: he will not remain 
classified; he is for ever in a process of evolution. 
This is indeed the highest compliment that could 
be paid him. It is not every poet who is capable of 
growth and change of a creative sort. With most 
poets the only marked modifications from book to 
book are technical. They adumbrate in one book 
what they achieve in the next. They mark out 
their province, they develop it, they exploit it, 
and at last they exhaust it. Consistency, emo- 
tional as well as intellectual, rides them as heavily 

D493 



SCEPTICISMS 

as the Old Man of the Sea. They are the one- 
strain poets, of whom we become accustomed to 
expect always the same sort of tune. From a psy- 
chological viewpoint this is significant. It means 
that these poets have early in their poetic career 
achieved what is for them a satisfactory abstrac- 
tion, or algebra, of experience. They have 
formed crystalline convictions which will hence- 
forth be hard, clear, and insoluble. In so far as 
we value their viewpoint, or have experienced it, 
we enjoy their work and give it a place in the 
gamut of our perceptions. But they have ceased 
to interest us as individuals, because they inform 
us obliquely that for them the problems have all 
been solved and there is no longer any flux in 
values. 

More interesting, therefore, is the poet who, if 
he does not always progress intellectually (a hard 
thing to determine on any absolute grounds), at 
any rate changes; he provides us with a personal 
drama as well as a literary. Mr. Masefield is of 
this sort. If we look back on his career as poet, 
we see a perspective of ceaseless change. His first 
mood, in "Songs and Ballads," was unreflectingly, 
colourfully lyric: he was preoccupied with sensu- 
ous beauty, and with its transience, in the roman- 



JOHN MASEFIELD 

tic tradition. In the group of novels which fol- 
lowed, we see a steady shifting of the attention 
away from the merely romantic, or decorative, and 
toward the real and human. The romantic atti- 
tude is not eliminated, to be sure ; one feels here as 
later in the four long narrative poems which gave 
Mr. Maseneld his greatest success, that though the 
material is often rudely naturalistic, it is still be- 
ing used to an essentially romantic end. It is the 
romance of the realistic, of the crude and violent; 
it is romantic because it is always seen against a 
background of permanence and beauty. This use 
of the realistic element, the vigour of the common- 
place, reached its height in "The Everlasting 
Mercy," "The Widow in the Bye Street," and 
"Dauber." In "The Daffodil Fields," which fol- 
lowed, one perceives the next change, a distinct 
relenting of the naturalistic mood, a softening of 
both material and technique nearly to the point of 
sentimentalism. The hunger for hardness and 
virility having been satisfied in a brief and mag- 
nificent debauch, Mr. Masefield returned to his 
more natural taste for the sensuous and lyric. 
The poetic plays which followed were further de- 
velopments of this. In spirit they are closely akin 
to the three later poetic narratives: the motive 



SCEPTICISMS 

force, the emotional compulsion, is an almost ob- 
sessive feeling for the tragic futility of man's en- 
deavour in the face of an outrageous and appar- 
ently unreasoning fate. At this everlasting door, 
Mr. Masefield says in effect, we beat in vain. One 
perceives in Mr. Masefield, as he says this, an al- 
most pathetic bewilderment that it should be so, 
but a bewilderment which has not yet 
reached the intensity of interrogation or rebel- 
lion. This point was finally reached in the son- 
net series which composed the greater part of 
"Good Friday." In these one gets a blind and 
troubled searching for spiritual comfort, a cry for 
some sort of assurance that beauty is more than a 
merely transient and relative thing. The tone at 
its best is tragic, at its worst querulous. The or- 
acle is dumb, however, and Mr. Masefield implies, 
though he does not state (and in spite, too, of his 
passionate adherence to Beauty), that the silence 
is negative. 

In short Mr. Masefield's evolution as a poet has 
been cyclic it has revolved through many 
changes, but always about one centre. This cen- 
tre, which has been at times obscured, and of which 
Mr. Masefield himself, like most poets, has been 
perhaps partially unconscious up to the present, is 



JOHN MASEFIELD 

essentially romantic: it is clearly in the tradition 
of that romanticism which consists in a pagan love 
of beauty, on the one hand, and a profound despair 
at its impermanence and relativity, on the other. 
The sonnets in "Good Friday" showed us that Mr. 
Masefield had become partly aware that this par- 
ticular emotional well was the feeding spring of 
his whole nature: it was his first attempt to dip 
directly from the source. Now, in "Lollingdon 
Downs," he has completed this process. The echo 
of personal complaint which hung over the former 
work is practically eliminated. Mr. Masefield 
has seen himself in a detached way, as he might see 
a reflection; the tone has become one of calm and 
resignation; like Meredith he has managed a cer- 
tain degree of objectivism and can accord without 
undue desolation when Meredith exclaims 

Ah what a dusty answer gets the soul 
When hot for certainties in this our life ! 

This volume has a singular and intriguing unity, 
a unity broken up by interludes and by a succes- 
sion of changes in the angle of approach, and in 
time and place. The effect is that of a several- 
voiced music. It is panoramic, rich in perspec- 
tive, passing all the way from lyric and reflec- 

[153] 



SCEPTICISMS 

tive sonnets to terse poetic dialogues and narra- 
tive lyric almost ugly in its bareness. It would 
be idle to pretend that Mr. Masefield is a philos- 
opher. He is not intellectual except in the sense 
that he is tortured by an intellectual issue; he is 
neither subtle nor profound. But he feels this 
issue intensely, and even more than usual he strikes 
music and beauty from it. On the technical side 
he has few superiors in power to write richly, 
richly not merely from the imaginative point of 
view, but also from the melodic. He modulates 
vowels with great skill; he knows how to temper 
sensuousness with vigour. Best of all, he is pre- 
eminently Anglo-Saxon in his speech. 



D54H 



XV 

The Higher Vaudeville: 
Vachel Lindsay 

ONE of the most necessary, but certainly 
the saddest, of the critic's many detest- 
able functions is the writing of epitaphs. 
It is never pleasant to have to set the seal of death 
on the brow that inclines for a crown. There is 
always, moreover, the horrible chance (or is it hor- 
rible for any save the critic*?) that the ghost will 
walk, that the apparently dead will come to life. 
Nevertheless, this paper must be an epitaph. 
Vachel Lindsay is marked out for an at least tem- 
porary hie jacet. 

Mr. Lindsay has never been an easy poet to 
place or appraise. Of his originality there can be 
no question. Unfortunately, originality is com- 
paratively a small part in the writing of good 
poetry it is the seasoning of the dish, but not the 
dish itself. Mr. Lindsay has always toyed dan- 

D553 



SCEPTICISMS 

gerously with theories about the function of 
poetry, and these theories particularly those that 
concern the revival of the troubadour, and the in- 
vention of a declamatory and orotund style in 
poetry especially adapted to that end have al- 
ways, like an internal cancer, threatened the vital- 
ity of his work. To begin with, he made the seri- 
ous mistake of assuming (implicitly at least) that 
in order to interest the common people, to make 
poetry genuinely democratic, one must be topical. 
One sees the effect of this in such a poem as "Gen. 
William Booth Enters Into Heaven." In the 
present critic's opinion that is one of the most curi- 
ously overestimated of contemporary poems, and, 
by its very topicality (as well as by its too jingling 
use of rhyme and rhythm) is destined to short life. 
In the last analysis it is thin and trivial ; the partic- 
ular has not been raised to the plane of the uni- 
versal. In his "Moon Poems" Mr. Lindsay al- 
lowed his talent for delicate fancy free play with 
far better results. In "The Congo," too, there 
was rhythmic beauty and barbaric colour almost 
enough, at any rate, to compensate for the rather 
childish echolalia, the boomlay-booms and rattle- 
rattle-bings ; though even here one wonders 
whether these blemishes are not terrible enough 
D56] 



VACHEL LINDSAY 

to preclude the poem from any other immortality 
than that of the literary curiosity. In all these 
poems, however, as in "The Fireman's Ball," the 
"Sante Fe Trail" and "Sleep Softly, Eagle For- 
gotten," one felt keen pleasure in Mr. Lindsay's 
sonorous vowels, broad and rugged rhythms and 
lavish colour. One might deny him any very seri- 
ous estimate, but none the less one admitted his 
charm and skill as an entertainer. 

In "The Chinese Nightingale," however, any 
hopes one might harbour as to Mr. Lindsay's real 
potentialities as a poet are for the time lamentably 
set at rest. With the partial exception of the title 
poem this book is Mr. Lindsay's own reductio ad 
absurdum of the poetic methods and theories he 
has so much at heart. In "The Chinese Nightin- 
gale" itself, in spite of many passages of an even 
more delicate lyrical beauty and magic than any- 
thing in its prototype, "The Congo," one feels 
clearly a decay of the metrical and linguistic fibre; 
something has gone wrong, the machine is whir- 
ring down, one experiences a sensation of looseness 
and flatness. What has happened? One turns 
with alarm to the other poems in the book and 
one's premonitions prove all too true. Here for 
the most part is only a tired and spiritless echo 



SCEPTICISMS 

of the rhythms that once were spontaneous. The 
tricks stand out like the bones of a skeleton- 
meaningless refrains endlessly reiterated, page 
after page of insipid lines, platitudinous ideas, 
banalities, trivialities, boyisms of rhyme and 
metre. Sometimes Mr. Lindsay seems to be wea- 
rily going through the motions that once made a 
kind of magic; sometimes he seems to be hope- 
lessly attempting his turn at a sort of heartless and 
bloodless vers libre. The result in either case is 
a dulness seldom relieved . . . often relieved, in- 
deed, only by one's amazement at the author's 
solemn inclination to ambitions so childish, per- 
formances so amateurishly and stalely inept. 
This is, in fact, topical journalistic verse, in which 
the lack of gusto or subtlety is only too fiercely em- 
phasized by Mr. Lindsay's addiction to the use of 
refrains. The poems on "Kerensky," "Pocahon- 
tas," "Niagara," "The Tale of the Tiger Tree" all 
are examples of this. For any trace of Mr. Lind- 
say's former charm one must turn to the lyric 
called "The Flower of Mending," or to "King 
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba." For once, in 
the latter poem, Mr. Lindsay's eternal mocking- 
bird, his infatuation for refrain, serves him a good 
turn. 

DS83 



VACHEL LINDSAY 

Can one safely prophesy about any poet"? It is 
doubtful. It is taking no very long chance, how- 
ever, to guess that if Mr. Lindsay's abilities are to 
produce work which will survive in all its force he 
must abandon many of his theories, suppress the 
good natured buffoon, who, in this case, so often 
takes the place of the poet, and remember that it 
is the poet's office not merely to entertain, but also, 
on a higher plane, to delight with beauty and to 
amaze with understanding. 



D59: 



XVI 



New Curiosity Shop and Jean 
de Bosschere 



WHO it was that started the current 
poetic fad for curio-collecting is a 
question not hard to answer: Ezra 
Pound is the man, let the Imagists and Others 
deny it as loudly as they will. Pound has from 
the outset, both as poet and as critic, been a curio- 
collector a lover of trinkets, bijoux of phrase, 
ideographic objets de vertu, carved oddities from 
the pawn-shops of the past, aromatic grave-relics, 
bizarre importations from the Remote and 
Strange. There is no denying, either, that it is a 
delightful vein in verse. No great exertion is de- 
manded of the reader; he is invited merely to 
pause before the display-window and to glance, if 
only for a moment, at the many intriguing min- 
utiae there arranged for him in trays. Is he tired 
of struggling with the toxic energies of a Rodin? 



JEAN DE BOSSCHERE 

Then let him rest in contemplation of a carved 
ushabti. Does a Strauss drag his spirit through 
too violent a progression of emotional projections'? 
Does a Masters overburden him with relevant 
facts'? A Fletcher fatigue him with aesthetic sub- 
tleties prolonged'? Let him concentrate on a gar- 
goyle. 

This method in the writing of poetry is to be 
seen at its purest in the Others anthologies, the sec- 
ond of which Mr. Alfred Kreymborg has edited, 
apparently undeterred by the success of the first. 
Nevertheless it is a variegated band that Mr. 
Kreymborg has assembled, and if they have in 
common the one main tenet that their poetic busi- 
ness is the expression of a sensation or mood as 
briefly and pungently (and oddly?) as possible, 
with or without the aids of rhyme, metre, syntax, 
or punctuation they are by no means the slaves 
of a formula and present us with a variety that is 
amazing. There is much here, of course, that is 
merely trivial, and a measurable quantity of the 
proudly absurd and naively preposterous; but if 
there are no such outstandingly good things here as 
"The Portrait of a Lady" by T. S. Eliot in the 
earlier issue, or Wallace Stevens's "Peter Quince 
at the Clavier," or John Rodker's "Marionettes," 



SCEPTICISMS 

we can pass lightly over the studiously cerebral ob- 
scurantism of Marianne Moore, the tentacular 
quiverings of Mina Loy, the prattling iterations 
of Alfred Kreymborg, the delicate but amorphous 
self-consciousness of Jeanne d'Orge, Helen Hoyt, 
and Orrick Johns, and pause with admiration and 
delight before the "Preludes" and "Rhapsody of 
a Windy Night" by T. S. Eliot, and "Thirteen 
Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace 
Stevens. It is not that one is at all indifferent to 
the frequent charm and delicious originality (at 
least as regards sensibility) of the other poets, but 
that one finds in the two last mentioned not only 
this delicate originality of mind but also a clearer 
sense of symmetry as regards both form and ideas : 
their poems are more apparently, and more really, 
works of art. In comparison, most of the other 
work in this volume looks like happy or unhappy 
improvisation. It is significant in this connection 
that Mr. Eliot uses rhyme and metre, a telling 
demonstration that the use of these ingredients 
may add power and finish and speed to poetry 
without in any way dulling the poet's tactile or- 
gans or clouding his consciousness provided he 
has the requisite skill. Mr. Eliot's "Preludes" 
and "Rhapsody" are, in a very minor way, master- 
[162] 



JEAN DE BOSSCHERE 

pieces of black-and-white impressionism. Person- 
ality, time, and environment three attributes of 
the dramatic are set sharply before us by means 
of a rapid and concise report of the seemingly ir- 
relevant and tangential, but really centrally sig- 
nificant, observations of a shadowy protagonist. 



ii 

From Mr. Eliot to M. Jean de Bosschere, the 
Flemish poet whose volume "The Closed Door" 
has now been translated into English by Mr. F. S. 
Flint, is a natural and easy step. It would ap- 
pear, indeed, that Mr. Eliot has learned much 
from M. de Bosschere ; certainly he is, in English, 
the closest parallel to him that we have. It is a 
kind of praise to say that in all likelihood Mr. 
Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" would 
not have been the remarkable thing it is if it had 
not been for the work of Jean de Bosschere: in 
several respects de Bosschere seems like a maturer 
and more powerful Eliot. What then is the work 
of M. de Bosschere'? 

To begin with, and without regard to the mat- 
ter of classification, it must be emphatically said 
that this book has the clear, unforced, and capti- 



SCEPTICISMS 

vating originality of genius. Whether, as Miss 
Sinclair questions doubtfully in her introduction, 
we call him mystic or symbolist or decadent and 
all these terms have a certain aptness is after all 
a secondary matter. These poems, in a colloquial 
but rich and careful free verse, occasionally using 
rhyme and a regular ictus, very frequently em- 
ploying a melodic line which borders on the proso- 
dic, seem at first glance to be half-whimsical and 
half-cerebral, seem to be in a key which is at once 
naif and gaily precious, with overtones or carica- 
ture; in reality they are masterpieces of ironic un- 
derstatement and reveal upon closer scrutiny a se- 
ries of profound spiritual or mental tragedies. 
The method of M. de Bosschere might be called 
symbolism if one were careful not to impute to 
him any delving into the esoteric; his themes are 
invariably very simple. One might call him a 
mystic, also, if one could conceive a negative mys- 
ticism of disbelief and disenchantment, a mys- 
ticism without vagueness, a mysticism of bril- 
liantly coloured but unsustaining certainties. 
But perhaps it would be more exact to say that he 
is merely a poet who happens to be highly de- 
veloped on the cerebral side, as well as on the tac- 
tile, a poet for whom the most terrible and most 



JEAN DE BOSSCHERE 

beautiful realities are in the last analysis ideas, 
who sees that as in life the most vivid expression 
of ideas is in action, so in speech the most vivid 
expression of them is in parables. These poems, 
therefore, are parables. In "Ulysse Batit Son 
Lit" we do not encounter merely the deliciously 
and fantastically matter-of-fact comedy, naif as 
a fairy story, which appears on the surface; we 
also hear in the midst of this gay cynicism the muf- 
fled crash of a remote disaster, and that disaster 
arises from the attitude of the animally selfish 
crowd towards the man of outstanding achieve- 
ment. He refuses to be one of them, so they kill 
him. "They roast Ulysses, for he is theirs." 
Likewise, in "Gridale," we do not witness a merely 
personal tragedy; the tragedy is universal. We 
see the crucifixion of the disillusioned questioner 
by the unthinking idolaters. In "Doutes," under 
a surface apparently idiosyncratic in its narration 
of the humorously bitter discoveries and self-dis- 
coveries of a child, we have really an autobiog- 
raphy of disillusionment which is cosmic in its ap- 
plicability. 

And yet he still believes, 
This burlesque of a man 
Who has given himself a universe 



SCEPTICISMS 

And a god like an immense conflagration 
Whose smoke he smells ; 
And indeed it is perhaps only a bonfire 
Made with the green tops of potatoes. 

Nevertheless he still believes, 

Ax in hand, this burlesque of a man still believes ; 
He will cut his dream, four-square, in the hearts of 
men. . . . 

There is nothing to laugh at, nothing to object to, 

We are not animals 

Living to feed our seed. 

There is something to believe. 

All men are not made of pig's flesh. 

There is something to believe. 

Who said that I am a poor wretch, 

Mere flotsam 

Separated from its imaginary god? 

Again, in "Homer Marsh," we make the acquaint- 
ance of the gentle recluse who loves and is loved 
by his house, his fire, his kettle, his pipe and to- 
bacco, his dog, his bees; but he goes away to travel, 
and lends his house to his friend Peter; and on his 
return finds to his bewilderment and despair that 
all these beloved things have curiously turned 
their affections to Peter. The tone is lyric, seduc- 

D66] 



JEAN DE BOSSCHERE 

tively playful and simple; the overtone is tragic. 
It is a translation into action of the profound fact 
that ideas, no matter how personal, cannot be 
property; that they are as precious and peculiar 
and inevitable in one case as in another, a natural 
action of forces universally at work. 

It would be rash, however, to carry too far this 
notion of parables. Some of the poems in "The 
Closed Door" are so sensitively subjective, so es- 
sentially lyrical, so naturally mystic in the 
sense that they make a clear melody of the 
sadness of the finite in the presence of the in- 
finite, of the conscious in the presence of the 
unconscious that one shrinks from dropping 
such a chain upon them. All one can say is that 
they are beautiful, that for all their cool and pre- 
cise and colloquial preciosity, their sophisticated 
primitivism, they conceal an emotional power that 
is frightful, not to say heartrending. What is 
the secret of this amazing magic? It is not verbal 
merely, nor rhythmic ; for it remains in translation. 
It springs from the ideas themselves : it is a play- 
ing of ideas against one another like notes in a 
harmony, ideas presented always visually, cool 
images in a kind of solitude. It is not that M. 
de Bosschere is altogether idiosyncratic in what he 



SCEPTICISMS 

does, that he sees qualities that others do not see ; 
but rather that he combines them unexpectedly, 
that he felicitously marries the lyrical to the mat- 
ter-of-fact, the sad to the ironic, the innocent to 
the secular the tender to the outrageous. He 
sees that truth is more complex and less sustain- 
ing than it is supposed to be, and he finds 
new images for it, images with the dew still 
on them. If novelty sometimes contributes to 
the freshness of the effect, it is by no means nov- 
elty alone: these novelties have meanings, unlike 
many of those factitiously achieved by some mem- 
bers of the Others group. This is a poet whose 
quaintness and whim and fantasy are always 
thought-wrinkled : they are hints of a world which 
the poet has found to be overwhelming in its com- 
plexity. Song is broken in upon by a doubting 
voice; flowers conceal a pit; pleasure serves a per- 
haps vile purpose; beauty may not be a delusion, 
but is it a snare "? And what do thought and mem- 
ory lead to*? ... 

Nevertheless he still believes, 

Ax in hand, this burlesque of a man still believes. . . . 

Ax in hand ! It is precisely such bizarre but sig- 
nificant imaginings that constitute the charm of 

[1683 



JEAN DE BOSSCHERE 

this poet. And it is a part of his genius that, al- 
though hyperaesthetic, he is able to keep clearly in 
mind the objective value of such images, and to 
contrast them deliciously with the sentimental, or 
the decorative, or the impassioned. 



XVII 

Narrative Poetry and the Ves- 
tigial Lyric: John Masefield, 
Robert Nichols, Frederic 
Manning 

IDEAS are like germs: their dissemination is 
rapid and uncontrollable, and to stamp them 
out is always difficult, sometimes almost im- 
possible. Moreover their vigour is frequently out 
of all proportion to their value. Popularity may 
not necessarily brand an idea as worthless, but 
there is some reason for regarding such an idea 
with suspicion. It is fruitful to examine in this 
light the long since tacitly accepted or implied idea 
that narrative poetry has outlived its usefulness 
and that the lyric method has properly superseded 
it. Since the time of Chaucer and the Elizabeth- 
ans there has been, needless to say, a good deal of 
narrative poetry one thinks of Keats, Byron, 



MASEFIELD AND NICHOLS 

Shelley, Browning, and Morris but nevertheless 
in the long interval between the middle of the sev- 
enteenth century and the present it is fairly obvi- 
ous that the focus of popular regard has shifted 
steadily away from narrative verse and toward 
the lyric. Is mental laziness the cause of this? 
One is told that it is too much trouble to read a 
long poem. It is presumably for this reason that 
Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Browning are popu- 
larly far more widely known for their lyrics than 
for their more important work. As concerns the 
relative merits of the two forms the argument is 
not conclusive. 

The lyric began its career, perhaps, as a lyric 
movement, or interlude, in a longer work. Un- 
der the impression, partly correct, that the lyric 
was, after all, the quintessence of the affair, it was 
then isolated and made to stand alone. Up to a 
certain point its justification was its completeness 
and perfection as an expression of emotion at a 
moment of intensity. But as a substitute for all 
that goes to the creation of narrative poetry its 
test is severer, for if it is entirely to supersede the 
narrative or dramatic poem it must usurp, and ade- 
quately, the functions of that form. And in this 
regard it may pertinently be asked whether since 



SCEPTICISMS 

the days of the Elizabethans the lyric has devel- 
oped very far. 

In fact it would be no very grave exaggeration 
to say that the lyric method as we have it today is 
in all fundamental respects of practice the same 
that we have had since the beginning. The con- 
ception of what it is that constitutes the lyric scope 
has, if anything, petrified. This is particularly 
true of the nineteenth century, when despite a 
rather remarkable development of lyric poetry on 
its technical side all the way from Keats to Swin- 
burne the conception of the lyric as a medium for 
interpretation did not so much broaden as narrow. 
Did Swinburne really add anything (not, it is 
meant, to English poetry to that of course he did 
richly add but to poetic method) beyond a per- 
fection of rhetorical impetus, a sensuous timbre of 
voice 4 ? Did Tennyson do more than reset the 
poetic material of the past to a more skilful, if 
somewhat too lulling, accompaniment of sound? 
. . . For any pioneering in the nineteenth century 
one must turn to Poe, Whitman, Browning, James 
Thomson ("B. V."), Meredith; and of these the 
influence has been small, particularly in America, 
and when felt, felt unintelligently. The popular 
demand has been great, as always, for the simplest 



MASEFIELD AND NICHOLS 

form of subjective lyric, for the I-love-you, I-am- 
happy, I-am-sad, I-am-astonished-at-a-rose type of 
lyric, prettily patterned and nai've with a sweet 
sententiousness. And the supply has been, and 
still is, all too lamentably adequate to the demand. 

It is in reaction to this situation that we largely 
owe the recent renewal of energy in poetry, 
signalized in England by the appearance of 
Mr. Masefield's and Mr. Gibson's poetic narra- 
tives, and by the work of the Georgian poets; in 
America, by the issuance of "North of Boston," 
"Spoon River Anthology," and the anthologies of 
the Others and Imagist groups. Two sorts of 
work are here represented; the dichotomy is obvi- 
ous, but the initial impulse, the discontent with a 
lyric method which had become practically vesti- 
gial, is the same. Messrs. Frost, Gibson, Mase- 
field, and Masters seek renewal in the broad and 
rich expanses of realistic and psychological narra- 
tive: the lyric poets have sought to refine on sen- 
sory perception and delicacy of form. The work 
of such poets as Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie and 
Miss Amy Lowell falls between and partakes of 
the characteristics of both. 

Three recent books by English poets illustrate 
our point : "Rosas," by John Masefield, "Ardours 

D733 



SCEPTICISMS 

and Endurances," by R. Nichols, and "Eidola," 
by Frederic Manning. Mr. Masefield's new nar- 
rative poem, "Rosas," is a disappointing perform- 
ance, quite the poorest of his narratives. Mr. 
Masefield has always been dubiously skilful at 
portraiture; and Rosas, a South American outlaw 
who becomes a cruel dictator, seems hardly to have 
aroused in his chronicler that minimum of dra- 
matic sympathy without which a portrait is life- 
less and unreal. Is Mr. Masefield on the border- 
line between manner and mannerism 1 ? It is a 
danger for him to guard against. His rhetorical 
tricks are here, his tricks of sentiment too not so 
overworked as in "The Daffodil Fields" to be sure; 
but if "Rosas" avoids the downright pathos of 
the murder scene in "The Daffodil Fields," it also 
fails to manifest even fragmentarily the psycho- 
logical intensity and sensory richness of that poem. 
The verse is fluent but colourless ; the narrative is 
episodic, bare, and ill unified. In short, we read 
the poem with very little conviction. Most ar- 
tists make sometimes the mistake of choosing 
themes unsuited to them, and it look as if "Rosas" 
were the result of such an error. One merely re- 
cords one's gratitude that Mr. Masefield has not 
yet abandoned narrative poetry. 

D743 



MASEFIELD AND NICHOLS 

Something of the narrative spirit also infuses 
the work of Mr. Robert Nichols, although in the 
main it purports to be lyric. "Ardours and En- 
durances," indeed, is one of the most remarkable 
of recent first books of verse perhaps the most 
remarkable since "North of Boston." Mr. Nich- 
ols is young, and one can hardly prophesy of him. 
At present his style is a rather intriguing blend of 
Miltonic and new-Georgian strains. The shorter 
war poems are vigorous, blunt, and genuine; and 
the "Faun's Holiday," the longest and finest thing 
in the book, though it is studiously and enthusias- 
tically in the vein of "L' Allegro," can quite well 
stand comparison with it. One can think of no 
poet in a decade or so who has come upon us with 
so richly prepared a sensibility, who takes such a 
gusto in sensation, or who writes of it with such 
brio. At this stage in his development a poet 
may be said hardly to need a theme: anything is 
an excuse for writing, and with enthusiasm. 
Whether Mr. Nichols will develop on the intellec- 
tual side and use his instinct for word-magic and 
sound-magic in the articulation of new tracts of 
consciousness (and that might be considered a defi- 
nition of the true poet) remains to be seen. 

The third volume, "Eidola," by Frederic Man- 

[1753 



SCEPTICISMS 

ning, is in free verse, and shows an attempt to 
change the lyric method, but not so much by addi- 
tion as by refinement. It cannot be said to be 
very remarkable. The work suggests that of Mr. 
Aldington, but is more jejunely precise and very 
much less vivid. . . . 

If one finds, therefore, indications of change in 
the work of Mr. Masefield, Mr. Nichols, and Mr. 
Manning, one cannot say that in any of these cases 
it has yet gone very far. They serve chiefly to 
bring well before us the question whether we are 
to have a revival of narrative poetry perhaps 
more psychological than Mr. Masefield's or a 
new orientation of the lyric. Whether or not nar- 
rative poetry is doomed to decay, we must hope for 
two sorts of development in the lyric. In one di- 
rection we should get the sort of thing Mr. Max- 
well Bodenheim, Mr. John Gould Fletcher, and 
Mr. Wallace Stevens tentatively indicate for us, a 
kind of superficially detached colourism, or what 
corresponds to absolute music ; and in the other di- 
rection, we should get a development of the dra- 
matic lyric, the lyric presenting an emotion not 
singly but in its matrix, beginning with the situa- 
tion which gives rise to it and concluding with the 
situation to which it has led. Indications of this 

[1763 



MASEFIELD AND NICHOLS 

method are to be found in the work of Mr. Mas- 
ters, Mr. Frost, and Mr. Eliot. ... If the lyric is 
to compete with narrative poetry, or to supplant it, 
it must certainly develop in the latter of these two 
manners. If it is merely to evolve further on its 
own base and it is hard to see any excuse for its 
continuance as a mere bonbon for the lazy-mind- 
edly sentimental it must choose the former. 



D773 



XVIII 

Confectionery and Caviar: 

Edward Bliss Reed, John Cow- 
per Powys, Joyce Kilmer, 
Theodosia Garrison, Will- 
iam Carlos Williams 

IT would be doing no very frightful violence 
to the truth to say that one could divide most 
contemporary American verse into two great 
types the types indicated by the title of this pa- 
per. If one leaves out of account the matter of 
poetic form, ignoring for the moment the bitter 
quarrel between vers-librists and metrists, one 
could justifiably conclude that all our contempo- 
rary poets are purveyors either of confectionery or 
caviar. Two or three exceptions we must make, 
of course : Amy Lowell, clearly, serves a melange; 
and Messrs. Frost, Robinson, and Fletcher, and 
perhaps Mr. Masters, will escape our classification 

[1783 



REED, POWYS, KILMER 

altogether which is to their credit. But in the 
main, it can be plausibly argued that the classifica- 
tion holds. 

The confectioners, of course, are in the major- 
ity. These are the prettifiers, the brighteners of 
life, the lilting ones. They fill our standard mag- 
azines; they are annually herded by Mr. Braith- 
waite into his anthology; and now, taking atfvan- 
tage of the poetic decuman wave and the delusions 
of publishers, they are swamping the land with 
their sweet wares. The conservative press flings 
garlands at them, the Literary Digest quotes them, 
the Poetry Society of America (alas!) fetes them. 
Hourly they grow more numerous, more powerful. 
The courageous and creative ones, and those who 
look to poetry for truthfulness and for a conscious- 
ness of life always subtler and more individually 
worked, will soon have to fight for their lives. 
And how, indeed, shall they be able to fight*? 
There are no giants to be slain rather, a host of 
pigmies, and all alike. A poem by one might bear 
the signature of any. They sing in chorus rather 
than singly. 

A recent group of volumes by Edward Bliss 
Reed, John Cowper Powys, Joyce Kilmer, and 
Theodosia Garrison, is an excellent illustration of 

D793 



SCEPTICISMS 

this. How many critics, not personally ac- 
quainted with these four authors, would know the 
difference if the names had been shuffled? Mr. 
Powys, perhaps, would protrude one would be a 
trifle alarmed at so much Weltschmerz, so many 
Sphinxes and heathen kisses, so much passionate 
frustration, in Mr. Kilmer, for example; and one 
might, the case being reversed, start at Mr. 
Powys's so speedy conversion to Catholicism. 
But even here the difference is in the symbols rather 
than in the literary quality. They are both, they 
are all, blood brothers sentimentalists, dabblers 
in the pretty and sweet, rhetoricians of the "thou 
and thee" school, pale-mouthed clingers to the arti- 
ficial and archaic. Here are platitudes neatly 
dressed, invocatory sonnets, the use of italics for 
emphasis (that last infirmity!), and all the stale 
literary tricks so relished especially by the female, 
the "calls o' love," the "cries i' the wind." hom- 
ing birds, in fact, the whole stock-in-trade of the 
magazine poet. Of Mr. Reed these remarks are 
partially unjust. Mr. Reed is too well bred to go 
so far. He restrains his platitudes from any at- 
tempt at lilting; his gait, indeed, is pedestrian. 
But of Mr. Kilmer and Mr. Powys and Mrs. Gar- 
rison particularly Mrs. Garrison they are all 



REED, POWYS, KILMER 

too true. Here is nothing new, nothing distinc- 
tive, the trotting out of the same faint passions, 
the same old heartbreaks and love songs, ghostly 
distillations of fragrances all too familiar. Is it 
possible for individuals to be so little individual"? 
Have they never experienced anything for them- 
selves*? Ideas, emotions, language, rhythms, all 
are oddly secondhand. 

The trouble with these poets, at bottom, is sim- 
ply that they are imitative, and imitative with a 
sentimental bias. Recall for a moment the study 
of the mechanism of poetic inspiration made by 
M. KostylefF. The conclusions he reached, what- 
ever else their value, were highly suggestive. An 
important part in poetic creation, he maintains, is 
an automatic discharge of verbal reflexes, along 
chains of association, set in motion by a chance 
occurrence. The difference between a poet who 
merely echoes the ideas and rhythms of the past, 
and the poet who creates something new, is simply 
that in the former instance this verbo-motor mech- 
anism is not deeply related to the poet's specific 
sensibility; in the latter, it is. This distinction 
fits the present case admirably. These poets, in 
other words, have not experienced sharply for 
themselves. They have drawn their stores of 



SCEPTICISMS 

verbo-motor reactions from the books of others, 
without checking up from personal observation. 
They colour their lives to a certain extent in ac- 
cordance with their too early adoption of a speech 
which is not their own, instead of colouring their 
speech in the light of their own experience. They 
give us, therefore, neither clearness nor truth, nor 
any beauty of a personal kind. They give us 
instead a tame uniformity, floods of tepid rhet- 
oric, vague regurgitations of the words of others, 
varied now and then for good measure with the 
grotesquely inept and the foolishly nai've. And 
over and under it all runs our undying American 
adoration of the pretty-pretty, the pious, the sa- 
cred virtues. Life is made out to be simply one 
sweet thing after another. These are, in fact, 
confectioners, and not inspired ones, either. 

With the question whether there might not arise 
a great confectioner one who would bring genius 
and originality to his task of enlightenment and 
cheer or, if not that, at any rate another Longfel- 
low we need not concern ourselves as yet, merely 
replying that there will be time for discussion 
when he arises. Meanwhile it is more interesting 
to turn to a consideration of the type of poetry 
we have called caviar, and to Mr. William Carlos 

D823 



REED, POWYS, KILMER 

Williams, who brings us samples. If the purvey- 
ors of confectionery are almost totally lacking in 
individuality, the purveyors of caviar fly to the 
other extreme: they carry individuality to excess. 
These are our modern individualists. What do 
they care how peculiar or esoteric their idiom is*? 
Self-expression is the thing. If the crowd cannot 
understand them, or ignores them, so much the 
worse for the crowd. This is a sentimental atti- 
tude, there is a good deal of pose in it, and a con- 
sequent defeat is easily regarded by the poet as the 
martyrdom of the truly great. Nevertheless, it is 
oddly significant that these caviarists, these pur- 
veyors of bitter realism, collectors of the bizarrely 
unpleasant and the irrelevantly true, have a style 
entirely their own. M. Kostyleff would admit 
that their mechanisms of verbo-motor reaction 
are closely related to their specific sensibilities: 
they are as clearly original as our other poets are 
imitative. It seems to be true, in this connection 
that the realists have a much less stereotyped style 
than the lilters. They appear to remember that, 
after all, literature should be drawn from life, not 
from literature. They experience first (and 
whole-heartedly, not with a fountain-pen behind 
the ear) and write afterward. 



SCEPTICISMS 

Mr. Williams is a case in point. His book 
throughout has the savoury quality of originality. 
Is it poetry ? That is the question. Self-portrai- 
ture it is vivid, acridly sensuous, gnarled, by 
turns delicate and coarse. There is humour in it, 
too, which is rare enough in contemporary verse. 
But on the whole it is more amiable than beautiful, 
more entertaining than successful. The reasons 
for this are several. To begin with, Mr. Wil- 
liams too seldom goes below the surface. He re- 
stricts his observations almost entirely to the sen- 
sory plane. His moods, so to speak, are nearly 
always the moods of the eye, the ear, and the nos- 
tril. We get the impression from these poems that 
his world is a world of plane surfaces, bizarrely 
coloured, and cunningly arranged so as to give 
an effect of depth and solidity; but we do not get 
depth itself. When occasionally this is not true, 
when Mr. Williams takes the plunge into the pro- 
founder stream of consciousness, he appears al- 
ways to pick out the shallows, and to plunge gin- 
gerly. The sensory element is kept in the fore- 
ground, the tone remains whimsically colloquial, 
and as a result the total effect even when the 
material is inherently emotional is still quaintly 
cerebral. Is it at bottom a sort of puritanism that 

[1843 



REED, POWYS, KILMER 

keeps Mr. Williams from letting go*? There is 
abundant evidence here that his personality is a 
rich one; but his inhibitions keep him for ever 
dodging his own spotlight. He is ashamed to be 
caught crying, or exulting, or adoring. On the 
technical side this puritanism manifests itself in a 
resolute suppression of beauty. Beauty of sound 
he denies himself, beauty of prosodic arrangement 
too; the cadences are prose cadences, the line- 
lengths are more or less arbitrary, and only sel- 
dom, in a short-winded manner, are they effective. 
In brief, Mr. Williams is a realistic imagist: he 
has the air of floating through experience as a sen- 
sorium and nothing more. He denies us his emo- 
tional reactions to the things he sees, even to the 
extent of excluding intensity of personal tone from 
his etchings; and his readers, therefore, have no 
emotional reactions, either. They see, but do not 
feel. Is Mr. Williams never anything but 
amused or brightly interested 4 ? The attitude has 
its limits, no matter how fertile its basis of obser- 
vation. 

Of course, one prefers, in the last analysis, Mr. 
Williams and his caviar to any amount of thin 
saccharine. It is at least real. But one con- 
cludes that the richer and more vital realm lies 



SCEPTICISMS 

midway between the extremes: in the truth-tell- 
ings of those who not only see sharply and know 
themselves intimately, but also feel profoundly, 
relate themselves to their world, and tell us what 
they know in the comprehensive balanced harmony 
which we call art. 



[186] 



XIX 

The Return of Romanticism: 
Walter de la Mare, John 
Gould Fletcher, William 
Rose Benet 

REALISTIC and romantic movements are 
commonly supposed, in the cycle of liter- 
ary evolution, to be alternative. As 
soon as the one begins to dim, the other begins to 
glow. But one of the curiosities of the present 
revival of poetry here and in England has been the 
simultaneity of these supposedly antipathetic 
strains. "Sword Blades and Poppy Seed" had 
scarcely begun to make itself known when the 
"Spoon River Anthology" and "North of Boston" 
interrupted the festivities; the first Imagist anthol- 
ogy shrilly intervened only to be rudely jostled by 
the first Others anthology; and so, ever since, the 
battle between the realists and the romanticists 

D873 



SCEPTICISMS 

has been, if unconsciously, at any rate acutely 
waged, and seems at the present moment no nearer 
a decision. The explanation of this is not diffi- 
cult. Reaction is usually the propulsive force of 
an artistic movement, and in the present case it is 
possible to maintain that the rebirths of romanti- 
cism and realism a curious pair of twins were 
occasioned by a reaction to one and the same situa- 
tion. This situation was the amazing decrepitude 
of American poetry, not merely during the last 
decade or two but, with the exception of Whitman 
and Poe, during its entire history. In general it 
may be said that American poetry has been, when 
romantic, romantic without imagination; when 
realistic, realistic without intelligence. Of the 
two strains the former has usually been dominant 
a sort of ethical sentimentalism (naive effort to 
justify puritanism on aesthetic grounds) supplant- 
ing any attempt to think or imagine freely. 
Home and mother have played the deuce with us. 
It is therefore against the failure of the realists 
to think, and the failure of the romanticists to im- 
agine, that, superficially at least, our modern 
realists and romanticists have respectively re- 
volted. Are these terms quite adequate*? Per- 
haps not. We might more accurately say that 

[1883 



DE LA MARE, FLETCHER 

the failure was in both instances a failure of 
consciousness, a failure to perceive. It is natural 
therefore that we should now be seeing our 
realists, on the one hand, constituting themselves 
psychoanalysts, and our romanticists, on the 
other, making a kind of laboratory of aesthetics. 
At the same time, it is a little puzzling to suspect 
that in a sense the roles are here reversed. 
There is something scientific not to say realistic 
in the manner in which our more radical ro- 
manticists conduct their researches in aesthetics; 
and certainly it is an adventurousness bordering 
on the romantic which impels our more radical 
realists to the exploration, not seldom, of such 
sinister, violent, and unfamiliar souls and places. 
The terms may prove to be outgrown. 

If, however, we take refuge in some such state- 
ment as that it is the function of romanticism to 
delight with beauty and the function of realism 
(psychorealism'?) to amaze with understanding, 
we can have no doubt that Mr. Walter de la 
Mare's "Motley" and Mr. John Gould Fletcher's 
"Japanese Prints" are in the romantic tradition. 
Mr. de la Mare's position as an English poet is as 
secure as, in a period of such amazing flux, it is 
possible to have. He could be safely said to share 



SCEPTICISMS 

with Mr. William H. Davies first honours as a 
maker of delightful lyrics. "Motley" his most 
recent book, will neither add to nor detract from 
this reputation. It is a little unfortunate that it 
should have been heralded as signalling an advance 
and expansion of Mr. de la Mare's talents, for 
this it clearly cannot be said to do. The most 
that can be said is that, on the whole, it proves 
Mr. de la Mare to be still himself engaging, 
whimsical, and with a delicious knack for making 
conventional metres unconventional. One is 
likely, in appraising the latest book of a poet 
whose work is familiar, to mistake one's failure 
to be surprised for a decline or stiffening of the 
poet's style. It is with some diffidence therefore 
that one confesses to a feeling that there is not 
quite the clear magic here that illuminated 
"Peacock Pie" or "The Listeners," not quite the 
same joyous plunge, but instead a gray sobriety 
which does not suit the poet so well. It is still 
the overtones of the supernatural that Mr. de la 
Mare plays on most skilfully and it is these over- 
tones that most definitely impel one to call him a 
romantic. Here is a search for escape. 

It is curious too in the light of Mr. Fletcher's 
later work (not yet gathered in any book) to find 



DE LA MARE, FLETCHER 

him doing in his "Japanese Prints" precisely this 
same thing. Recently Mr. Fletcher has been 
feeling his way towards a kind of realism an 
acceptance of (but also an attempt to sublimate) 
the world of reality. But in "Japanese Prints," 
even more sharply than in "Irradiations" and 
certainly more conventionally than in "Goblins 
and Pagodas" we find him participating in the 
current romantic nostalgia for the remote and 
strange. As Mr. Aldington and "H. D." have 
been exploiting Greece, and Mr. Pound and Miss 
Lowell exploiting China, so now Mr. Fletcher 
takes his turn with Japan. This whole tendency 
is indicative of a curious truckling to reason: one 
desires to talk of beauty and wonder as if they 
shone at one's very door, but the joyous confidence 
of youth, the only magician who could make that 
immanence a reality, has, alas, vanished. Conse- 
quently one admits that such things are not to be 
found at one's humble and matter-of-fact door, 
and takes refuge in the impalpability and marvel 
of distance. In "Japanese Prints" Mr. Fletcher 
has made this excursion neither brilliantly nor 
badly. These poems are slight, pleasant, some- 
times sharply etched, in a few cases magical; but 
one cannot feel that they will compare very well 



SCEPTICISMS 

with "Goblins and Pagodas." Has Mr. Fletcher 
perhaps a little too studiously attempted the 
Japanese method of compression and concentra- 
tion*? That is not the style most suited to him: 
he appears rather to be the sort of poet who 
reaches his greatest brilliance when allowed to 
develop rapidly successive musical variations on a 
theme capable of prolonged treatment. In such 
work words evoke words, images evoke images, 
the trains of association function freely and richly; 
but in work like the present he has restricted him- 
self at the outset to what can be achieved by an 
effort of intelligence alone, deliberately exerted. 
It is Fletcher the craftsman imitating Fletcher the 
poet. 

Mr. William Rose Benet's new book, "The 
Burglar of the Zodiac," proves him certainly to 
belong with such romanticists, but little else. 
Mr. Benet is clever, but mechanical. One detects 
in him a considerable intelligence working through 
a shallow and unoriginal sensibility. Neither his 
rhythms nor his color seem to be peculiarly his 
own, nor has he apparently any sense of effect. 
His best work is a jargon of approximations. 



XX 

The Mortality of Magic: 

Robert Graves, Roy Helton, 

New Paths 

MAGIC, whether of diction or of thought, 
is the one quality in poetry which all 
poets seek with equal passion. But 
how different are the wiles of these fantastic hunts- 
men in pursuit of this golden bird ! For some are 
bold and direct, attempting to slay the creature 
outright; some go warily with a fine net; some 
wait in the darkness, hoping to be found rather 
than to find; while others still it cannot be 
doubted trudge patiently through the forest with 
a handful of salt. This much their contempo- 
raries may observe of their appearances as hunts- 
men but of their success, who can say*? For 
magic is itself a changing thing. The sparrow of 
today is the phoenix of tomorrow, and vice versa; 
and tomorrow the captors of sparrows and 



SCEPTICISMS 

phoenixes may regard each other with changed 
eyes. 

This, it hardly needs to be said, is largely a 
matter of diction; and this again is largely a 
matter of the rate of growth and decay in the 
language at any given time. Some poets resist 
the growth of language, some merely acquiesce in 
it, and some (like Dante and D'Annunzio) exult 
in and compel it. These last are the boldest 
spirits, and, on the whole, the most likely to fail. 
"Will this word live? Will this word die? 
Will this word, tomorrow, be beautiful or merely 
vulgar?" In every line they hazard answers to 
these questions; and the chances are much against 
any high average of success. 

These differences in the attitude towards dic- 
tion set gulfs between poets who would otherwise 
be commensals, and constitute the deliciousness 
and futility of criticism. Observe, for example, 
the astonishing unlikeness, on this point, of "New 
Paths," that most interesting English anthology 
of the verse and prose of the younger men, and the 
work of two such poets as Robert Graves and Roy 
Helton. The anthology represents, rather con- 
sciously, a band (by no means unvaried) of 
pioneers wrestlers with new diction and rhythms, 



GRAVES AND HELTON 

pursuers of new kinds of magic. One could 
gladly forego, it is true, a sort of Pre-Raphaelitic 
pinkness and faunishness which crops out here 
and there, as in the work of the Sitwells. But 
many of these English huntsmen have attained to 
a subdued and cool and almost intellectual kind 
of magic which, in America, we do not know. 

At the same time one cannot help feeling a 
trifle dubious about a charm which is so conscious 
of itself, so practised in self-exploitation. It is 
too deliberately nai've, too sophisticatedly primi- 
tive. However nicely a poet may write of sirens, 
fauns, elves, or other superannuated evidences of 
man's thirst for the supernatural, nowadays it 
inevitably smacks of affectation. 

It is partly because this fault is common in 
England that one is delighted with such a volume 
as "Fairies and Fusiliers," of which the American 
edition has just appeared. This is forthright and 
honest verse, Anglo-Saxon in its vigorous direct- 
ness, at the same time irresponsible and sure. Mr. 
Graves is less ostentatiously serious than his 
sedater contemporaries in "New Paths," yet one 
is not certain that in the upshot he does not come 
off better. Whereas among the younger con- 
temporary poets one finds a good deal of emphasis 

D953 



SCEPTICISMS 

on phrase-making for its own sake, here one finds 
a poet almost scornful of trappings and colour, 
intent only on what he has to say, and saying it 
vividly and musically in the unaffected language 
of prose. Certainly these are among the most 
honest and vivid war poems which so far have 
come to us and if Mr. Graves does not cut very 
deep, neither, on the other hand, does he go in for 
the usual mock-heroics and sentimental buncombe. 
Hear him in "A Dead Boche" : 

To you who'd read my Songs of War, 
And only hear of blood and fame, 

I'll say (you've heard it said before) 

"War's Hell !" and if you doubt the same 

To-day I found in Mametz Wood 

A certain cure for lust of blood : 

Where, propped against a shattered trunk, 
In a great mess of things unclean, 

Sat a dead Boche ; he scowled and stunk 
With clothes and face a sodden green, 

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired, 

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard. 

This approaches, it is true, that sort of roman- 
ticism which consists in the deliberate exploitation 
of the ugly or horrible. But for the most part 



GRAVES AND HELTON 

Mr. Graves is a dealer in whim, and it is to Mr. 
Helton that we must turn to see that method 
working in exfenso. "Outcasts in Beulah Land" 
qualifies Mr. Helton for admission among our 
realists, but not as yet on a very high level. For 
the most part his work is still tentative and imi- 
tative : one swims successively through currents of 
Bret Harte, Masefield, Service, and O. Henry. 
The rhythms are insecure, the narrative psychology 
undeveloped. Mr. Helton at present finds it 
difficult to end a story otherwise than in senti- 
mentality or melodrama. At the same time it 
should be said that these stories are often vivid, 
richly if somewhat commonplacely imagined, 
and on the whole well-proportioned. Most of 
one's objections are comprised when one has said 
that Mr. Helton is young. As for diction, Mr. 
Helton's method is that of D'Annunzio and 
Dante: he believes in using the demotic tongue, 
neologisms and all. He is willing to take his 
chances that the slang of today will become the 
magic of tomorrow. Unfortunately he does this 
without much discrimination; he appears to be 
somewhat insensitive to values. Even among 
neologisms it is possible to distinguish vigorous 
from vulgar, beautiful from merely pretty. And 

[1973 



SCEPTICISMS 

it is this which Mr. Helton, like so many of our 
contemporary pursuers of new magic, has failed 
to do. 



D9SI 



XXI 

Varieties of Realism: Wilfrid 
Wilson Gibson, William 
Aspenwall Bradley, T. S. 
Eliot. 

MR. WILFRID WILSON GIBSON 
seems a young man to be giving us his 
collected poems; it is, in fact, a little 
startling to find that even if most of his early 
work is omitted, as in this collection, he has pub- 
lished so much. In addition to the more realistic 
studies, by which Mr. Gibson has chiefly earned 
his reputation, "Daily Bread," "Womenktnd," 
"Fires," "Borderlands and Thoroughfares," 
"Livelihood," and "Battle," this rather un- 
wieldy volume contains also one poem in an 
earlier vein, "Akra the Slave," a useful reminder 
that, like his fellow-poet Mr. Masefield, Mr. Gib- 
son has evolved in manner from romanticism to 
realism. When one considers in this connection 
some of Mr. Gibson's very latest work, par- 



SCEPTICISMS 

ticularly in the lyric and in the sonnet form, 
where he seems tentatively to be teasing once 
more at colours more frankly brilliant, it is pos- 
sible to suspect that, again like Mr. Masefield, he 
has fed himself to satiety on the drab and realistic 
and may yet revert to the romantic, an evolution 
altogether natural. 

Mr. Gibson's development has, however, been 
more obvious and orderly than Mr. Masefield's. 
It was not, in his case, a sudden surrender to an 
overpowering and perhaps previously unconscious 
impulse, but rather a gradual modification. Even 
in "Akra the Slave," for example, there are hints 
of the close psychological texture which was later 
to reach its maximum of efficiency as a poetic 
style in "Fires" and "Livelihood." In "Daily 
Bread" and "Womenkind," pitched in a colloquial 
dramatic form (or dialogue, rather, closely akin 
to Mr. Abercrombie's use of the same form in 
parts of "Emblems of Love"), there was neces- 
sarily a good deal of waste. Mr. Gibson's genius 
is not dramatic, and he found himself precluded 
from the sort of step-by-step objective analysis 
which is his keenest pleasure. Consequently, this 
is the weakest part of his work. In "Fires," on 
the other hand, lies the happiest synthesis of all 
[200] 



GIBSON, BRADLEY, ELIOT 

Mr. Gibson's talents. In these brief, rhymed 
narratives, dealing for the most part with the 
lives of working-people, but not too insistently in 
a drab tone, Mr. Gibson found himself free to 
exploit side by side his love of colour and his love 
of sharp analysis. The result is a sort of iterative 
half-lyric analysis, frequently powerful. In 
"Borderlands," "Livelihood," and "Battle," how- 
ever, the lyric and colourful aspect has gone 
dwindling in proportion as the psychological pre- 
occupation has increased. Unfortunately, the 
gain in truthfulness has not entirely compensated 
for the loss in beauty. In some of the poems 
which compose the volume called "Battle," for 
example, it may be questioned whether actual 
bathos was not reached: to truthfulness Mr. Gib- 
son seems here to have sacrificed everything, even 
dignity. One admits his truthfulness, but one 
does not feel it. 

It is, of course, too early to attempt a placing 
of Mr. Gibson. For the present it is enough to 
say that he has developed a style peculiarly effec- 
tive, and valuable too for its influence on con- 
temporary poetry. Mr. Gibson has clearly 
proved that poetry can deal with the common- 
places of daily life, with the bitter and trivial 



SCEPTICISMS 

and powerful and universal commonplaces of 
human consciousness, and do it with force and 
beauty. None of his contemporaries on either 
side of the Atlantic has equalled him in power 
to drag forth, link by link, the image-chain of a 
human mood. We should not yet begin com- 
plaining that these moods have a hypnotic same- 
ness throughout his work; nor that he varies the 
monotony of these analytical studies with too little 
of that romantic flush which, one cannot help 
thinking, no less than an excessive love of matter- 
of-fact, is a part of consciousness. Mr. Gibson 
lacks the lyric elan for this, just as he also lacks 
flexibility of technique. But these are questions 
which perhaps will be settled anew with every 
epoch according to the prevailing taste; one can- 
not be dogmatic about them. Today we like Mr. 
Gibson for his dogged truthfulness, and we shy 
at his occasional pedestrian sentimentality. A 
later judge may conceivably reverse the verdict. 
Mr. William Aspenwall Bradley is obviously a 
congener of Mr. Gibson. The poems in his "Old 
Christmas" are, for the most part, narrative and 
in much the same form that Mr. Gibson is most 
fond of using: the octosyllabic couplet. It can- 
not be pretended that this is poetry of a high order; 
[202] 



GIBSON, BRADLEY, ELIOT 

but Mr. Bradley, in adapting to his use the life 
of the Kentucky mountain-folk, has hit upon 
extremely interesting material; he has given us 
some excellent stories, told in the folk-language, 
with many quaintnesses of idiom, and, on the 
whole, with the simplicity and economy that 
makes for effect. Mr. Bradley's technique is use- 
ful rather than brilliant he seldom rises above 
the level of the story-teller. In "Saul of the 
Mountains," "Old Christmas," or the "Prince of 
Peace," the story obviously is the thing, and the 
story does the trick. When, as occasionally hap- 
pens, Mr. Bradley shows genuine imaginative 
power (as in the "Strange Woman" and its 
sequel) it is hard to say how much that power is 
fortuitous. 

Mr. T. S. Eliot, whose book "Prufrock and 
Other Observations" is really hardly more than 
a pamphlet, is also a realist, but of a different 
sort. Like Mr. Gibson, Mr. Eliot is a psycholo- 
gist; but his intuitions are keener; his technique 
subtler. For the two semi-narrative psychologi- 
cal portraits which form the greater and better 
part of his book, "The Love Song of J. Alfred 
Prufrock" and "The Portrait of a Lady," one 
can have little but praise. This is psychological 
[203] 



SCEPTICISMS 

realism, but in a highly subjective or introspective 
vein; whereas Mr. Gibson, for example, gives 
us, in the third person, the reactions of an 
individual to a situation which is largely external 
(an accident, let us say), Mr. Eliot gives us, in 
the first person, the reactions of an individual to a 
situation for which to a large extent his own 
character is responsible. Such work is more 
purely autobiographic than the other the field is 
narrowed, and the terms are idiosyncratic (some- 
times almost blindly so). The dangers of such 
work are obvious: one must be certain that one's 
mental character and idiom are sufficiently close 
to the norm to be comprehensible or significant. 
In this respect, Mr. Eliot is near the border-line. 
His temperament is peculiar, it is sometimes, as 
remarked heretofore, almost bafflingly peculiar, 
but on the whole it is the average hyperaesthetic 
one with a good deal of introspective curiosity; it 
will puzzle many, it will delight a few. Mr. 
Eliot writes pungently and sharply, with an eye 
for unexpected and vivid details, and, particularly 
in the two longer poems and in "The Rhapsody of 
a Windy Night," he shows himself to be an ex- 
ceptionally acute technician. Such free rhyme as 
this, with irregular line lengths, is difficult to write 
[204] 



GIBSON, BRADLEY, ELIOT 

well, and Mr. Eliot does it well enough to make 
one wonder whether such a form is not what the 
adorers of free verse will eventually have to come 
to. In the rest of Mr. Eliot's volume one finds 
the piquant and the trivial in about equal pro- 
portions. 



[205] 



XXII 

American Richness and 
English Distinction: Ralph 
Hodgson, Harold Monro, 
Walter de la Mare 

IF there is one respect in which contemporary 
English poetry is conspicuously and consist- 
ently superior to contemporary American 
poetry, it is in the lyric. While their more ad- 
venturous fellowcraftsmen in America have been 
experimenting, perhaps a little recklessly, with 
narrative, epic, and symphonic verse, and with 
bizarre arythmics and insoluble self -symbolisms of 
all sorts, the English poets, with one or two excep- 
tions, have held more clearly to the lyric tradition. 
This is not the cause, as some appear to think, 
for either heartburnings or self-congratulations. 
Poetry is poetry no matter where or how it is writ- 
ten, art should not be regarded from a narrowly 
and selfishly national standpoint, and we should 
[206] 



HODGSON AND MONRO 

be as ready to applaud a foreign artist as an 
American. As a theory, this is of course a plati- 
tude; as a fact, it might in some quarters be 
regarded as an alarming novelty. As a practice, 
moreover, it meets opposition because it demands 
the application of a high degree of fair-mindedness 
and intelligence. One must face, in all foreign 
art, a considerable divergence from one's own in 
temper and method; and face it with understand- 
ing. It is different, but is it necessarily inferior'? 
These problems have been often raised in the 
last few years over the question as to the relative 
merits of contemporary English and American 
poetry. Foolish things have been said on both 
sides of the Atlantic, the patriotic instinct has 
been as vigorous and cloistral in Poetry and 
Drama, of London, as in Poetry, of Chicago. 
In general the failure has been one of understand- 
ing, aided in some cases by a disposition to con- 
demn, a priori, without consulting the evidence. 
It is encouraging to see signs that this attitude is 
breaking down. The fact that the whole poetic 
firmament is in such a state of chaos has of itself 
made it necessary for critics to discard easy tradi- 
tional theories and employ methods a little more 
empirical. This has resulted in greater fairness 
[207] 



SCEPTICISMS 

to the individual it has even gone so far, at 
times, as to indicate complete anarchy, in which 
bad was as loudly acclaimed as good. The up- 
shot, however, has been the establishment of a 
middle attitude of good-humoured, first-hand 
analysis, toward foreign art as well as domestic. 

It is with this attitude that we should approach 
the work of such poets as Mr. Hodgson, Mr. de 
la Mare, and Mr. Monro. If we have developed 
a taste for work more racily American, more 
conspicuously of the place and moment, we may 
conceivably feel that we are stepping back two 
or three decades when we read, for example, 
the poems of Mr. Hodgson. We should not 
allow this to prevent our enjoyment of their 
unique charm and originality. Mr. Hodgson is 
that rarity in these times, a poet of very small 
production, and of production on a uniformly 
high level, a poet who had already earned a 
reputation before the printing of his first book. 
His range is not wide. A single tone dominates 
nearly all the twenty-five poems in his "Poems" 
whether in the narrative lyrics, such as "The 
Bull," "Eve," "The Song of Honour," and "The 
Gipsy Girl," or in the simple lyrics, such as 
"Time, You Old Gipsy Man," and "Stupidity 
[208] 



HODGSON AND MONRO 

Street." The metrical variety is not great, the 
melody is always open; but Mr. Hodgson 
possesses a genuine gift for modulation which 
carries him safely over inversions that to others 
would have proved fatal. If Mr. Hodgson's 
abilities stopped there, his verse would be charm- 
ing, but empty; these are matters of the voice 
merely. But Mr. Hodgson's chief value lies 
rather in what he has to say. There are two arts 
in poetry: the art of precisely saying what one 
has in mind; and, even more important (though 
less regarded), the art of excluding from one's 
conception all that is not of pure value. It is 
particularly in this latter respect that Mr. Hodg- 
son excels. His mood is always perfectly clear; 
the terms by which he states it have a delicate and 
sweet precision. Seldom is there a waste idea, 
seldom a waste line. Mr. Hodgson does not, like 
many poets, have to take a running start, only to 
generate lyric speed when half way through the 
poem; neither does he exhaust himself altogether 
in the first stanza. On the contrary his poems 
have that clear certainty, from beginning to end, 
which constitutes excellence in art. This would 
of course be a dull perfection if it were not for the 
quality of cool magic which is woven everywhere 



SCEPTICISMS 

through Mr. Hodgson's work, varying all the way 
from the twinkle of whim, as in "Eve," to the 
graver tones of "The Song of Honour." In gen- 
eral, this magic is not so much the magic of beauty 
as the magic of unaffected truthfulness, vigor- 
ously phrased, nai've, sincere. One feels little 
trace of artifice, even in so fluent a lyric as "Eve." 
And a large part of the effectiveness of "The Bull" 
is in its honest matter-of-factness. 

The most arresting feature of Mr. Hodgson's 
work, however, is the feature which is most likely 
to give radical Americans the impression that he is 
old-fashioned: the fact that though he is essen- 
tially a lyric poet (preferring a lyric which is 
narrative) he is none the less essentially objective, 
never, or seldom, speaking in his own voice, or 
developing, psychologically, any personal or 
dramatic viewpoint. This is an attitude which 
predicates poetry as a something separate from our 
own tortuous lives, a something additional, perfect 
in itself: a something to turn to for delight, which 
shall take us, not deeper into ourselves, but away 
from ourselves. This attitude adds to the charm 
of Mr. Hodgson's work, but it is also, in a wider 
sense, a weakness. It means that the greater part 
of human experience must remain unexpressed by 
[ 



HODGSON AND MONRO 

him. It means that his work, in spite of its 
realistic or objective method, is in the last analysis 
decorative rather than interpretative. Poetry of 
this sort is not a window through which one may 
see, but a picture hung on the wall. It aims by 
every means known to the art to combine 
aesthetic patterns which shall delight us with their 
colour and texture; but it never strikes at us 
through our emotions. The pleasure it affords us 
is serene, cool, detached. Itself produced by no 
very intense emotional disturbance in the poet's 
brain (beyond the pathos of creation) it has in 
consequence no power to disturb the reader. It 
does not reach forward or backward in human ex- 
perience. It is, in fact, all treble, and no bass. 
The darker chords of intellectual and emotional 
frustration which shake the centre of individuality 
itself, and which in the past have given us our 
greatest poetry, are here untroubled. In this re- 
spect Mr. Hodgson, Mr. de la Mare, and the 
Imagists, antipodal as their methods are, all share 
essentially one purpose. 

The work of Mr. Monro is from this stand- 
point the direct antithesis of Mr. Hodgson's work. 
Mr. Monro is, if the expression may be used, a 
psychological realist. If he is by no means the 



SCEPTICISMS 

equal of Mr. Hodgson in point of lyricism or 
natural magic or roundness of form, he somewhat 
makes up for this in greater richness and variety 
and in what must be called, for lack of a better 
word, the quality of humanness. It is daily, per- 
sonal experience that interests Mr. Monro 
personal experience viewed from the individual 
centre, observed almost religiously as it flows from 
moment to moment in the stream of consciousness. 
This is in the strain which is perhaps the richest 
in potentialities among modern tendencies in 
poetry. To a considerable extent it implies the 
transference of the method of the psychological 
novel or play to poetry: in the end it is nothing 
less than a poetic study of consciousness itself. 
In this respect Mr. Monro's method is right rather 
than successful. His speech, if robust, is crabbed, 
muttering, and laborious. His preoccupation 
with the profound trivialities which make up our 
lives, though often fresh and delightful, as in 
parts of the two series called "Week End" and 
"Strange Meetings," sometimes merely results in 
amiable catalogues, humourously tinged with 
panpsychism. Along, too, with a good deal of 
imaginative richness Mr. Monro displays an un- 
fortunate tendency to push quaintness and whim 



HODGSON AND MONRO 

to the verge of preciosity. Should a train, for 
instance, be said ever to "tittle tattle a tame 
tattoon'"? This is an example of a good idea 
not quite successfully brought to birth. It should 
be added that Mr. Monro does not do this often, 
and that, in general, his work has an intellectual 
saltiness of originality which makes it satisfactory 
and often delightful reading. And as was said 
above, it gains in suggestiveness because it is in a 
strain, as yet infrequent in modern poetry, but 
probably destined to great importance: the strain 
of psychological realism; although Mr. Monro 
cannot be said to have taken that method either 
far or subtly. 

Mr. de la Mare's "Peacock Pie" consists of 
lyrics ostensibly for children; in reality it contains 
some of the most delightful work he has done. 
It is doubtful whether any other living American 
or English poet can weave simple melody as deftly 
as Mr. de la Mare, melody both as regards words 
and ideas. If after a century has passed one may 
recall Leigh Hunt's categories of imagination and 
fancy as the two springs of the poetic, it would 
be no violence to say that Mr. de la Mare's power 
over us is rather in fancy than in imagination. It 
is delicate, elusive, impalpable; over the simplest 



SCEPTICISMS 

lyrics hangs an overtone of magic. And now and 
again, as in the "Song of the Mad Prince," this 
magic reaches a grave intensity which strikes well 
to the marrow of things. Mr. de la Mare is not 
an innovator, and his scope is not great; but within 
his scope he has no superior. 

If after a reading of these three rather typical 
English poets we recall as contrast the dominant 
notes in contemporary American poetry, certain 
differences stand out conspicuously. Despite the 
fact that Mr. Monro manifests a slight orientation 
in a new direction, we may say that these poets, 
like most contemporary English poets, hold more 
or less surely to the main poetic tradition, in par- 
ticular as concerns the theory that lyric poetry is a 
decorative rather than an interpretative art, and 
that its affair should be, primarily, the search for 
and modulation of beauty, with or without regard 
to its nearness to human experience. The result 
is that from a purely literary viewpoint English 
poetry of the present day is much more perfectly 
finished, much maturer, than American poetry. 
On the other hand, it loses proportionately by this 
very fact. By comparison with contemporary 
American poetry, which is more empirical, draw- 
ing more boldly on the material of a wider con- 



HODGSON AND MONRO 

sciousness, without so sharp a literary distinction 
between the poetic and the non-poetic, and more 
richly experimental as concerns questions of form, 
English poetry appears at once thinner and 
more "literary." It does not seem to relate so 
closely to the complete life of the individual. It 
becomes obvious, in view of this contrast, to hope 
for some sort of fusion of the two methods. Will 
the poet arise who will have no occasion for envy- 
ing either "this man's art" or "that man's scope" 1 ? 
It appears to be only a question of time. 



XXIII 

Poets as Reporters: 

Edith Wyatt, Richard Butler 

Glaenzer, Christopher Mor- 

ley, A Treasury of War 

Poetry 

POETS, it may be said, quite as clearly as 
scientists or historians, are reporters for 
the Journal of Humanity. They are the 
scientists of the soul, or as others might prefer, of 
the heart, or of consciousness. We can imagine 
them sallying forth into the city of consciousness 
to report to us what is going on there some of 
them perhaps to get no further than the main 
thoroughfare or the shopping centres, while others, 
bolder spirits, penetrate to obscure and dismal 
alleys or to suburbs so remote and unfrequented 
that we are at first inclined to question whether 
they exist at all. In any generation the great 
[216] 



WYATT, GLAENZER, MORLEY 

majority of the ephemeral poets are those who 
early in life have discovered the park in this city 
and are for ever after to be found there, loitering. 
One conceives them as saying: "This is pleasant, 
so why go farther"? No doubt there are mean 
streets, sinister purlieus, but let us not distress our- 
selves over them!" If we reproach them for thus 
misrepresenting our city, for exaggerating the rela- 
tive importance and beauty of the park, (calling 
them, as Freud does, wish- thinkers) they can re- 
tort that those who ferret out exclusively the mean 
and sinister are quite as precisely wish-thinkers 
impelled, as Nietzsche said of Zola, by the "de- 
light to stink." To this, of course, we reply that 
our ideal reporter who turns up only at rare in- 
tervals, as a Shakespeare, a Dante, a Balzac, a 
Turgenev, a Dostoevsky is the one who sees the 
city whole. We might also add that those who 
report extensively on the shabby purlieus are so 
much in the minority always that they are far 
more worthy of encouragement than the park 
loungers. Their influence is, in the aggregate, 
healthy. 

Miss Wyatt, Mr. Glaenzer, and Mr. Morley 
are all three in this sense devotees of the park. 
But if they are at one in thus representing the 



SCEPTICISMS 

park as of supreme importance, their reports are 
delivered in manners quite distinct. Miss Wyatt 
is clearly more aware than the other two that 
there are other aspects to the city she has 
glimpsed them; she alludes to them; she is a little 
uneasy about them. She has heard the factory 
whistles at morning and evening, and seen people 
going to work. Is it possible that there is a certain 
amount of suffering and fatigue and dulness en- 
tailed*? Yes, it is; but at this point she closes 
her eyes, and goes into a dactylic trance with re- 
gard to wind, rain, flowers, wheat, waterfalls, 
sunset over a lake. Life is beautiful, disturbing; 
it moves one to exclamation or subdued wonder. 

The Vesper star that quivers there 
A wonder in the darkening air, 
Still holds me longing for the height 
And splendour of the fall of night. 

In these four lines Miss Wyatt gives us her 
poetic attitude hands clasped and lips parted. 
A great poet could endow this attitude with dig- 
nity and power; but Miss Wyatt is not a great 
poet. She lacks on the one hand the precision, 
on the other hand the magic, for the task, though 
in such a poem as "An Unknown Country" she 



WYATT, GLAENZER, MORLEY 

comes close enough to the latter quality to make 
us regret that she could not come closer. She 
succeeds in making us see how beautiful this poem 
might have been, by comparison with which vision 
the actual accomplishment leaves us frustrate. 
Rhyme and rhythm particularly the dactyl and 
the use of repetition tyrannize over Miss Wyatt, 
frequently to her undoing; and this sort of tyranny 
is symptomatic. It relates to a certain emotional 
or intellectual incompleteness. 

Of the other two poets Mr. Glaenzer is dis- 
tinctly the more varied. He accepts the park 
gladly and without question, and he observes it 
carefully. His report is mildly rich, blandly 
sensuous, unoriginally tuneful. His observations 
are more precise than Miss Wyatt's, his technique 
more secure. On the other hand he lacks force 
or direction, he seems to be unable to transpose 
from one key to another so as to obtain climax, 
and the exigencies of rhyme lead him a helpless 
captive. It should also be remarked that his sense 
of humour occasionally fails him, as when he 
directs his plover to exclaim: 

Coddle . . . coddle . . . Hist! 
Expletives of this sort and one recalls Miss 



SCEPTICISMS 

Lowell's tong-ti-bumps and Mr. Lindsay's boom- 
lay-booms are dangerous, to say the least. 

Mr. Morley, one is at first inclined to add, 
would not have made this error, for one of the 
dominants in his book, "Songs for a Little 
House," is humour. And yet, on second thought, 
that is not so certain, for Mr. Morley has a dis- 
heartening talent for spoiling an otherwise re- 
freshingly light or fancifully humorous lyric by 
collapsing at the close in a treacle of sentimental- 
ity. Sentimentality is Mr. Morley's dark angel, 
and it is curious to see how at the first whisper of 
its approach his sense of humour either abandons 
him incontinently or assumes a heavy-footedness 
and loutishness which suggests the Teutonic as 
indeed his sentimentality does also. Thus, as an 
example of the latter quality : 

Pure as the moonlight, sweet as midnight air, 
Simple as the primrose, brave and just and fair, 
Such is my wife. The more unworthy I 
To kiss the little hand of her by whom I lie. 

And of the former : 

More bright than light that money buys, 
More pleasing to discerners, 
The shining lamps of Helen's eyes, 
Those lovely double burners ! 
[220] 



WYATT, GLAENZER, MORLEY 

One must turn to some of Mr. Morley's sonnets 
for a maturer and more persuasively imaginative 
touch, or to his parodies for a surer delicacy of 
humour. The parodies of Hilaire Belloc and 
Edgar Lee Masters are excellent. 

If these three poets are all determined, as re- 
porters, to emphasize the pretty and sweet and 
to ignore the surlier and more tragic demons of 
consciousness, one finds in the anthologies of war 
verse edited respectively by Mr. W. R. Wheeler 
and Mr. George Herbert Clark that the disposition 
to glorify, to escape the unpleasant, is equally 
prevalent. One would have supposed that by this 
time war would have become so terribly real as to 
paralyse any such attempt; yet here they are, hun- 
dreds of poets, frantically waving once more the 
dubious emblems of honour, glory, duty, revenge, 
self-sacrifice. So unanimous is it that it has al- 
most the air of a conspiracy. An amazing in- 
toxication! Yet truth has many ways of 
revenging itself, and in this instance it does so 
by effectively frustrating the effort to beautify 
war or make pretty poetry of it. For the uni- 
formity or failure in these two collections is 
nothing short of astonishing. One closes them 
with the feeling that few if any of these poets, 



SCEPTICISMS 

even those who have made names for themselves, 
have come within a thousand miles of the reality. 
They shout, they exhort, they lament, they paean, 
but always with a curious falseness of voice; it is 
painfully apparent that they have failed to 
imagine, or more exactly, to see. Their verses are 
histrionic. For a glimpse of the truth one must 
turn to Miss Lowell's "Bombardment," in a richly 
imagined and dramatic prose (which Mr. Charlton 
M. Lewis dismisses in his preface with patronizing 
fatuity), to Rupert Brooke's Sonnets, to Alan 
Seeger's "Champagne," or to some of the work of 
Mr. Gibson and Mr. de la Mare. For the rest, 
one alternates between Kiplingesque narratives of 
incident and sterile odes. What is perhaps the 
finest poem of the war, Mr. Masefield's "August: 
1914," is in neither anthology, nor is Mr. 
Fletcher's "Poppies of the Red Year." 

Are we to conclude from all this that poetry 
cannot be made of war? Not necessarily. What 
immediately suggests itself is that as war is hide- 
ously and predominantly real, an affair of over- 
whelmingly sinister and ugly forces, it can only 
be embodied successfully (with exceptions) in an 
art which is realistic, or psycho-realistic. To re- 
turn to the simile with which this review was 

C222] 



WYATT, GLAENZER, MORLEY 

opened, we might say that those poets who are 
devotees of the park rather than of the slum will 
almost inevitably fail in any attempt to describe 
war in terms of the park. And to succeed at all 
is to falsify, to report the desire rather than the 
fact. It is of such failures adroitly written and 
interesting, but ephemeral and with the air of 
hasty marginal notes that these two anthologies 
largely consist. Meanwhile, we await with in- 
terest the return of the poets from the trenches. 
It is possible that we shall then learn what war 
is: they will perhaps tell us directly and simply 
and subtly what a human being really thinks and 
feels in such a fantastic environment. And we 
shall probably be surprised. 



XXIV 

Sunt Rerum Lacrimae: 
Chinese Poetry 

WHEN, a little over a year ago, trans- 
lations of Chinese poetry began to 
appear over the signature of Arthur 
Waley, the literary supplement of the London 
Times devoted a leader to a panegyric of them 
and, among other things, predicted that the whole 
course of occidental poetry might well and for that 
matter might profitably be changed by this spiritual 
invasion from the East. The writer in the Times 
was most struck by the total absence, in Chinese 
poetry, of the literary artifices which, for the last 
twenty-five centuries at any rate, have made occi- 
dental poetry what it is. He was moved, as others 
have been, by the bare simplicity of it, its stalwart 
and rugged adherence to the homelier facts and 
truths, its contemplative naivete, its honesty, and 
its singularly charming blend of the implicit and 
the explicit. These are, indeed, the conclusions 
[224] 



CHINESE POETRY 

which nine out of ten readers of Mr. Waley's col- 
lection, "One Hundred and Seventy Chinese 
Poems" might justifiably reach. Mr. Waley has 
employed as his translation-medium, for the most 
part, a free verse in which, despite his preface (he 
appears to consider that he has kept the rhythm 
of the original), there is hardly a trace of any 
sort of rhythm other than that of a well-felt prose. 
But this is a fact which (after a few lines) one 
has completely forgotten ; for Mr. Waley has pro- 
duced a book which, strictly regarded as a piece 
of English literature, has a remarkable beauty. 
As poetry one has little but praise for it. It is a 
clear enough, and precious enough, addition to our 
English gamut. If one has any quarrel with it at 
all, one quarrels with it as a translation. 

And here, I believe, there is some ground for 
thinking Mr. Waley's book misleading. For, as 
noticed above in the case of the writer in the Lon- 
don Times, most people will instantly conclude, 
after reading these deliciously candid and straight- 
forward free-verse poems, that Chinese poetry is a 
far simpler and far less artificial affair than ours; 
and many who already incline towards the less 
formal of poetic methods will employ this as the 
final coup de grace in their argument against an 
[225] 



SCEPTICISMS 

art of delicate elaboration. Their argument, of 
course, gains force with the publication of any suc- 
cessful book of free verse; but of the historical 
argument which Mr. Waley's book seems so com- 
pletely to afford them they must be deprived. 
For Chinese poetry is not a poetry even remotely 
akin to free verse; and it is far from being artless. 
As a matter of fact, little as one would gather it 
from Mr. Waley's preface, or from Judith Gau- 
tier's preface to "Chinese Lyrics from the Book of 
Jade," or from Mr. Cranmer-Byng's preface to "A 
Lute of Jade" all of which are in almost equal 
measure informative and confusing Chinese 
poetry is perhaps more elaborately and studiously 
artificial (as distinguished from artless) than any 
other. The literary traditions are so powerful and 
inflexible as to be almost ritualistic. The forms 
are few and exactly prescribed, the rules many. 
When it is recalled that the Chinese language is 
entirely monosyllabic; that the variety of rhymes 
is small; that all words are, for the purposes of 
poetry, inflected as either flats or sharps (the in- 
flection for each word being fixed) ; and that 
Chinese poetry employs not only rhyme, and an 
exact number of syllables in each line, but that 
these syllables must follow a precise pattern in 
[226^ 



CHINESE POETRY 

accordance with inflection (equivalent, in a degree, 
to our ictus), one begins to see how complex an 
art it is. A typical four-line stanza, for example, 
with seven words to a line, the cesura falling un- 
alterably after the fourth word, and rhyming per- 
haps a, <2, , a, is as follows : 

Flat flat sharp sharp flat flat sharp 

Sharp sharp flat flat sharp sharp flat 

Sharp sharp flat flat flat sharp sharp 

Flat flat sharp sharp flat flat sharp 

Almost all Chinese poetry of the great periods is 
stanzaic, and almost all of it is short, the quatrain 
and the poem of eight or twelve lines being the 
most common lengths. A few poets have essayed 
longer poems, some of them narrative notably 
Po Chii I but these are exceptions. 

It is therefore with all these facts in mind that 
one should read the translations of Mr. Waley, or 
Mr. Cranmer-Byng; or Mr. Whi tail's translations 
of the French versions by Judith Gautier. Of the 
three books, Mr. Waley's is distinctly the most 
comprehensive and from the literary point of view 
the most successful. The other two are usefully 
supplementary however, for the reason that the 
Cranmer-Byng versions are for the most part 
[227] 



SCEPTICISMS 

metrical and in rhyme, and serve somewhat to 
correct one's impression that Chinese poetry is 
non-literary; and that the Whitall book consists 
largely of love poems, the element in which the 
other books are weakest. From the three volumes, 
taken together, emerges the fact that Chinese 
poetry is among the most beautiful that man has 
written. Artificial and elaborate it may be as re- 
gards the mould into which it is cast; but, at any 
rate as presented to us in Arthur Waley's book, it 
seems, by contrast with most occidental poetry, 
poignantly simple and human. How much of this 
we must credit to Mr. Waley we cannot, of course, 
tell. We must remember that it is above all else 
a poet's art which the Chinese set store by. A part 
of the charm of this poetry, stripped of its art for 
us who are occidental, must inevitably be simply 
due to its combination of the strange with the 
familiar, of the remote with the comprehensible. 
But one is tempted to go farther and to say that 
Chinese poetry seems more than any other a cry 
from the bewildered heart of humanity. Sorrow 
is the most persistent note in it sorrow, or sor- 
rowful resignation; sorrow for the inevitable part- 
ings of friends, sorrow for the home remembered 
in exile, for the departure of youth, the futility of 
[228] 



CHINESE POETRY 

a great career, the injustice of man, the loneliness 
of old age. The Freudians will have something 
to explain in the remarkable infrequency with 
which it deals with love between the sexes; it is 
friendship which is most honored. And perhaps 
one is wrong in saying that these poems, even as 
given in the limpid free verse of Mr. Waley, in 
delicately colloquial prose-rhythms, are altogether 
artless. The rhythm of ideas is clear; and that 
sort of dim counterpoint which may be manifest 
in the thought itself is not less apparent. Simple 
and homely as appear the details by which these 
poets evoke a mood, simple and homely and prosaic 
as the mood itself may appear, it is when one 
attempts retrospectively to reconstruct the steps 
by which any such mood-poem was completed that 
one perceives how exquisitely selective was the 
poet, with what patient fastidiousness he searched 
for the clear qualities of things, and with what a 
magical precision he found just that tone of re- 
straint, almost of matter-of-factness, which fairly 
whizzed with overtones. A popular form of 
Chinese poetry is the four-line poem called the 
stop-short, in which the sense is supposed to con- 
tinue after the poem has stopped. But even in 
the longer poems that is almost universally the 



SCEPTICISMS 

method. It is the hum of reverberations, after the 
poem has been read, that is sought for. And even 
such a narrative poem as Po Chii I's "Everlasting 
Wrong," one of the famous "long" poems of the 
language (though it runs only to a few pages), is 
constructed in accordance with this instinct, and 
is, therefore, really a sequence of lyrics. 

Does all this mean that Chinese poetry is pro- 
foundly unlike our own"? Perhaps not, in theory. 
Restraint and understatement have always been 
characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry, though not 
to the same extent. It is in the sort of theme 
chosen that one feels the most profound diver- 
gence. Our own themes are apt to be sublimated 
and "literary," to some degree conventionalized, 
no matter how simple and colloquial may be the 
treatment. The themes of the Chinese poets are 
highly conventionalized the same themes used 
over and over again but they are essentially 
simple. Sunt rerum lacrimae it is the pathos in 
things that the Chinese poets play upon, century 
after century; the inanimate things, the things of 
humble human use, the small utilities which we 
associate with lives simply lived, supply the 
medium through which Li Po or Po Chii I or T'ao 
Ch'ien pierce our hearts. One is struck by the 
C2303 



CHINESE POETRY 

childlike candour of this poetry: no detail is for- 
bidden as it would be in our poetry, perhaps 
because it seems too prosaic; the sole question 
raised is as to its emotional appropriateness. Is 
it a comb, a fan, a torn dress, a curtain, a bed, an 
empty rice-bin ? It hardly seems to matter. The 
Chinese poet makes a heart-breaking poetry out 
of these quite as naturally as Keats did out of the 
song of a nightingale heard in a spring garden. It 
is rarely dithyrambic, rarely high-pitched : part of 
its charm is in its tranquillity, its self-control. 
And the humblest reads it with as much emotion 
as the most learned. . . . Was the writer in the 
London Times right, therefore, in thinking that 
this poetry might be a wholesome influence for our 
own*? If it can teach our poets warmth and 
humanness qualities in which American poets 
are singularly lacking the answer must be an un- 
qualified yes. 



XXV 

Vox et Praeterea? Maxwell 
Bodenheim 

IT will be recalled that when the Imagists first 
came upon us they carried banners, and that 
upon one of them was inscribed their detesta- 
tion of the "cosmic," and of the "cosmic" poet, 
who (they added) "seems to us to shirk the real 
difficulties of his art." No doubt if the Imagists 
were to issue this particular volume again they 
would find occasion to alter this and perhaps other 
statements, for here as elsewhere they sinned 
against one of their own cardinal doctrines they 
failed to think clearly and, ipso facto, failed also 
to define with precision. Were they quite sure 
what they meant by the term "cosmic" poet*? 
Did they mean, for example, Dante or only Ella 
Wheeler Wilcox*? The point is trifling, it may 
be, and yet it is not without its interest, for it 
indicates an error characteristic of the moment. 
It was not unnatural that those of our poetic 
[232] 



MAXWELL BODENHEIM 

revolutionaries who, tired of the verbose senti- 
mentalities and ineptitudes of the more mediocre 
among their predecessors, determined to achieve 
a sharper picturism in poetry, should in the first 
excited survey of the situation decide that any- 
thing "cosmic," or let us say philosophic, was ob- 
viously beyond the focus of their poetic camera 
could not be "picturized." It appeared that 
thought would have to be excluded and in fact 
for a year or more, under the influence of the 
Imagists, the markets were flooded with a free 
verse in which thought was conspicuously at a 
minimum. "Pure sensation !" was the cry a cry 
which has been heard before, and will be heard 
again; it arises from a question almost as old as 
poetry itself the question whether the poet 
should be only a drifting sensorium, and merely 
feel, or whether he should be permitted to think. 
Should he be a voice, simply or something be- 
side *? Should he occasionally, to put it collo- 
quially, say something*? Or should he be merely 
a magic lantern, casting coloured pictures for ever 
on a screen ? 

The question is put perhaps too starkly, and 
purposely leaves out of account all of the minute 
gradations by which one passes from the one ex- 



SCEPTICISMS 

treme to the other. And the occasion for the 
question is Mr. Maxwell Bodenheim, who, though 
already well known as a poet, has just published 
his first book, "Minna and Myself." Mr. Boden- 
heim might well, it appears, have been one of the 
Imagists. None of them, with perhaps the excep- 
tion of "H. D.," can equal his delicate precision 
of phrasing. None of them is more subtly pic- 
torial. Moreover Mr. Bodenheim' s theories as to 
the nature of poetry (for which he has adroitly ar- 
gued), such as that it should be a "coloured grace" 
and that it should bear no relation to "human 
beliefs and fundamental human feelings," might 
seem even more clearly to define that affinity. 
Yet it would be a great mistake to ticket Mr. 
Bodenheim as an Imagist merely because his 
poetry is sharply pictorial, or because he has de- 
clared that poetry should not deal with funda- 
mental human emotions. As a matter of fact his 
theory and performance are two very different 
things. One has not gone very far before detect- 
ing in him a curious dualism of personality. 

It is obvious, of course, that Mr. Bodenheim has 
taken out of the air much that the Imagists and 
other radicals have set in circulation. His poems 
are in the freest of free verse : they are indeed quite 



MAXWELL BODENHEIM 

candidly without rhyme or metrical rhythm, and 
resolve themselves for the most part into series of 
lucid and delicate statements, of which the crisp 
cadences are only perhaps the cadences of a very 
sensitive prose. It is to Mr. Bodenheim's credit 
that despite the heavy handicap of such a form he 
makes poems. How does he do this? Not 
merely by evoking sharp-edged images if he did 
only that he would be indeed simply an exponent 
of "coloured grace" or Imagism but precisely be- 
cause his exquisite pictures are not merely pictures, 
but symbols. And the things they symbolize are, 
oddly enough, these flouted "fundamental feel- 
ings." 

Mr. Bodenheim is, in short, a symbolist. His 
poems are almost invariably presentations of 
mood, evanescent and tenuous tenuous, fre- 
quently, to the point of impalpability in terms of 
the visual or tactile; and if it would be an exag- 
geration to say that they differ from the purely 
imagistic type of poetry by being, for this reason, 
essentially emotional, nevertheless such a state- 
ment approximates the truth. Perhaps rather 
one should say that they are the ghosts of emo- 
tions, or the perfumes of them. It is at this point 
that one guesses Mr. Bodenheim's dualism. For 



SCEPTICISMS 

it seems as if the poet were at odds with the 
theorist: as if the poet desired to betray these 
"fundamental emotions" to a greater extent than 
the severe theorist will permit. In consequence 
one feels that Mr. Bodenheim has cheated not only 
his reader but also himself. He gives us enough 
to show us that he is one of the most original of 
contemporary poets, but one feels that out of sheer 
perversity he has withheld even more than he has 
given. There are many poets who have the vox et 
praeterea nihil of poetry, and who wisely therefore 
cultivate that kind of charm; but it is a tragedy 
when a poet such as Mr. Bodenheim, possessing 
other riches as well, ignores these riches in credu- 
lous obeisance to the theory that, since it is the 
voice, the hover, the overtone, the perfume alone 
which is important in poetry, therefore poetry is 
to be sought rather in the gossamer than in the 
rock. Mr. Bodenheim has taken the first step: 
he has found that moods can be magically de- 
scribed no less than dew and roses. But poetic 
magic, as George Santayana has said, is chiefly a 
matter of perspective it is the revelation of 
"sweep in the concise and depth in the clear" 
and, as Santayana points out, if this is true we 
need not be surprised to perceive that the poet will 
[236;] 



MAXWELL BODENHEIM 

find greatest scope for this faculty in dealing with 
ideas, particularly with philosophic ideas. . . . 
And we return to our old friend the "cosmic." 

Nor need Mr. Bodenheim be unduly alarmed. 
For when one suggests that the contemplation of 
life as a whole, or the recognition of its items as 
merely minute sand-grains of that whole, or an 
occasional recollection of man's twinkling unim- 
portance, or a fleeting glimpse of the cruel perfec- 
tion of the order of things, are among the finest 
headlands from which the poet may seek an out- 
look, one is certainly not suggesting that poets 
should be logicians. "It is not the paraphernalia 
but the vision of philosophy which is sublime." If 
the poet's business is vision, he can ill afford to 
ignore this watch-tower. For if, like Mr. Boden- 
heim, he desires that poetry shall be a kind of 
absolute music, "unattached with surface senti- 
ment" a music in which sensations are the notes, 
emotions the harmonies, and ideas the counter- 
point; a music of detached waver and gleam, which, 
taking for granted a complete knowledge of all 
things, will not be so nai've as to make statements, 
or argue a point, or praise the nature of things, or 
inveigh against it, but will simply employ all such 
elements as the keys to certain tones then truly 

[237] 



SCEPTICISMS 

the keyboard of the poet who uses his brain as well 
as his sensorium will be immensely greater than 
that, let us say, of the ideal Imagist. 

The point has been elaborated because, as has 
been said, it is one on which Mr. Bodenheim seems 
to be at odds with himself: the poems in "Minna 
and Myself" show him to be an adept at playing 
with moods, an intrepid juggler with sensations, 
but one who tends to repeat his tricks, and to 
juggle always with the same set of balls. Of the 
poems themselves what more needs to be said than 
that they are among the most delicately tinted and 
fantastically subtle of contemporary poems in free 
verse? Mr. Bodenheim's sensibility is as unique 
in its way as that of Wallace Stevens or of T. S. 
Eliot or of Alfred Kreymborg. One need not 
search here for the robust, nor for the seductively 
rhythmic, nor for the enkindling. Mr. Boden- 
heim's patterns are cool almost to the point of 
preciosity; they are, so to speak, only one degree 
more fused than mosaics. They must be read 
with sympathy or not at all. And one feels that 
Mr. Bodenheim is only at his beginning, and that 
he will eventually free himself of his conventions 
on the score of rhythm (with which he is experi- 
menting tentatively) and of theme-colour. In 

C238] 



MAXWELL BODENHEIM 

what direction these broadenings will lead him, 
only Mr. Bodenheim can discover. One is con- 
vinced, however, that he can step out with 
security. 



C239] 



XXVI 

Philosophy for the Flute: 
Alfred Kreymborg 

THE public, or that iridescent portion of it 
which occasionally thinks of such things 
as poetry, has not found it easy to make 
up its mind about Alfred Kreymborg. When his 
first book, "Mushrooms," appeared a book to 
which he appended the disarming sub-title "A 
Book of Free Forms" this iridescent fraction 
twinkled for a moment between indifference and 
derision : could a man who wrote thus be anything 
but charlatan? Was he serious*? And the oddi- 
ties of taste to which Mr. Kreymborg lent himself 
in the editorship of "Others" were not calculated 
to mitigate this impression. A good many people 
have from first to last thought of him as one who, 
with a view to obtaining any sort of publicity, has 
courted the bizarre in art, the aesthetically 
brindled, very much as a newspaper editor might 
court the sensational. Perhaps there is a trace 
[240;] 



ALFRED KREYMBORG 

of truth in this. But one must remember that 
Mr. Kreymborg was in the position of an editor- 
poet, serious in his intentions, (even if his inten- 
tions related largely as whose do not? to 
himself) but almost wholly without funds. Some 
sort of publicity was indispensable. And it was 
only too dangerously easy for one whose natural 
interest was in the "new" in art to heighten "new- 
ness" for this purpose to the point of novelty. 

The result has been, as in most such cases, two- 
natured: it has made Mr. Kreymborg tolerably 
well-known, but on the other hand the reputation 
it has bestowed on him is in a sense a speckled one, 
the colour of which is questionable. With what, 
precisely of all the hues ranging from lemon- 
yellow through saffron to earthy brown, should 
one associate him 4 ? With the gelatinous ero- 
genous quiverings of Mina Loy, the tortuously 
patterned logic of Marianne Moore, the syllable- 
eruptions with which Walter Arensberg has in- 
fected language 1 ? Or rather with the gentle skill 
and beauty of such poets as Wallace Stevens and 
Maxwell Bodenheim? Mr. Kreymborg's two 
small books, "Mushrooms" and "Plays for Poem- 
Mimes" indicate clearly enough that it is in the 
latter class that, now at any rate, he belongs. 



SCEPTICISMS 

But they indicate also, perhaps, that Mr. Kreym- 
borg himself has not always from the outset been 
too precisely aware of this destiny. 

"Mushrooms," in fact, was a book of which ex- 
periment and uncertainty were ruling motives. 
It was something new in poetry that Mr. Kreym- 
borg desired, but of what nature this should be 
was not quite clear to him. Rhyme, one imagines 
him saying to himself, can, and perhaps should, be 
largely dispensed with; stanza-patterns certainly 
are not desirable where they are not inevitable; 
one's personality should, in the full sense of its 
immediate moment, be free, and colloquial; and 
are capital letters at the beginnings of lines any 
longer necessary? Into the psychological value 
of the latter custom one need not go; nor need one 
here discuss the sheer propulsive force, or value for 
emphasis, or for beauty of sound, of rhyme. One 
is more interested in Mr. Kreymborg's effort to 
give full rein to his personality and have it none 
the less, as it were, pace. 

For the fact is that if we approach his work 
first from the technical side we find it to be some- 
thing quite different from what is commonly called 
free verse or cadenced verse. Mr. Kreymborg is 
in reality a melodist, a melodist perhaps more 
[242] 



ALFREDKREYMBORG 

exactly in the musical than in the metrical sense, 
though the result is, or should be, in the upshot, 
the same. The poems in Mushrooms are con- 
stantly approaching the condition of having a 
tune; and Mr. Kreymborg has himself told us 
that it is often with a definite musical tempo in 
mind three-four time for example that he 
writes them. It is not remarkable therefore that 
one feels more precision and gusto of movement in 
many of these poems than one does in most free 
verse. What is remarkable is that on the whole 
one feels this so seldom, relatively; or, perhaps 
it would be fairer to say, that one so seldom 
feels it strongly. Certain of the shorter lyrics fall 
clearly and deliciously enough into a piercing 
Mozartian pattern, a pattern which lacks per- 
ceptibly nothing through the absence of rhyme. 
In such cases one feels that the addition of piano 
accompaniment and melody for the voice would 
be extremely simple. This is true also of many 
of the brief lyric movements in the "Plays for 
Poem-Mimes." Observe, for example, from 
"Mushrooms" the opening lines of "To Circe" : 

Voice, voice, marvellous voice: 
Come, come back to me ! 

[2433 



SCEPTICISMS 

Or, from the later volume, in "When the Willow 
Nods" : 

Only when the willow nods 
does the water nod: 
only when the wind nods 
does the willow nod ; 
only when a cloud nods 
does the wind nod ; 
and, of course, nod 
rhymes with God. . . . 

In these excerpts the melody is clear enough. But 
these are the exception and all too often one looks 
in vain for the metrical or rhythmical clue. What 
is the difficulty? Mr. Kreymborg is, as it hap- 
pens, exceptionally sensitive to music, exception- 
ally perceptive of its values. But of this 
sensitiveness and perceptiveness he carries over to 
the other art, the art of word-arrangement, only 
so much of music as relates to the distribution of 
ictus and pause. This alone, unfortunately, will 
not wholly serve. Ictus is lame, if not actually 
functionless and vestigial, if it does not fall on 
the right syllable, the syllable suited to the occa- 
sion by its sound; and pause, if it be distributed 
without regard for the kindred pauses of idea and 
orotundity, is merely unobserved. A beautiful or 



ALFRED KREYMBORG 

rich or subtle movement in poetry derives about 
equally from sound-values and rhythm- values : the 
skilful poet knows how to synthesize them in such 
a way as at one moment to produce harmony, 
when they fall smoothly in unison, and at another 
to produce dissonance, when they slightly clash. 
Mr. Kreymborg could manage the rhythmic part 
of this synthesis, but his sense of sound values is 
deficient. He appears to be unaware of the vari- 
ability of effect producible by syllabic arrange- 
ment, the felicitous alternation or repetition of 
deep or shallow vowels, dull or sharp consonants, 
or consonants richly sheathed. In this regard it 
is interesting to contrast him with so different a 
poet as Mr. John Gould Fletcher, who lacks the 
specifically metrical sense as conspicuously as Mr. 
Kreymborg possesses it, but who, on the other 
hand, is inferior to no poet living in his use of the 
colour of sound. 

The result of Mr. Kreymborg's deficiency in the 
sense of sound-values is that his verse has about 
it always, whether the melodic movement is 
marked or slight, grave or capricious, a kind of 
thinness, a thinness as evident to the eye as to the 
ear, evident to the eye, perhaps, as too slight a 
filament might be when dedicated to a task too 

[245] 



SCEPTICISMS 

severe, audible to the ear as the thin obstructed 
voice of a flute, a voice which one might conceive 
as being embodied, above the flute, in a waver of 
finest gossamer. The medium is, it is true, in- 
dividual; one could not mistake a poem by Mr. 
Kreymborg. It has its delicate charm, whimsical 
or sharp; and it has also its absurdities, when the 
childlike candour which is the poet's favourite 
mood leads him to extravagances of naive repeti- 
tion. Mr. Kreymborg has, it is possible, been a 
little too much encouraged by admiration in this 
regard. His charm for us has been, always so 
largely a personal charm, a charm of the colloquial 
voice, of the intimate gesture seen through the 
printed page, the whimsical shy defensive twinkle 
or grimace, that perhaps it has become difficult for 
him not to overdo it. A responsive audience is 
demoralizing. If one can so captivate with a 
penny whistle's droll capricious tendernesses and 
innuendoes, why concern one's self with an or- 
chestra"? 

Well, why indeed? ... It is Mr. Kreymborg 
himself who shows us why. The fact is that he 
is by way of being a philosophical poet, one who is 
never completely happy unless he is teasing him- 
self or his reader with the insoluble hieroglyphs of 

046:1 



ALFRED KREYMBORG 

the universe, hieroglyphs which he employs, as an 
artist should, half for their own sake and half for 
their value as sheer decoration. But it is curious 
to observe how step by step with Mr. Kreymborg's 
development of the philosophical attitude has de- 
veloped with it also one of its important germinal 
components, a component which had its value and 
charm during the earlier phases, but which now 
threatens to become an incubus. This component 
is Mr. Kreymborg's fondness for the attitude of 
childlike wonder, for the exclamation of round- 
eyed astonishment, a lyricism a trifle too con- 
sciously sheer; a note which even at the outset in 
"Mushrooms," for those who do not wish in poetry 
merely a saturated solution of tender personality, 
manifested a disposition to become, whenever the 
framework of thought was too slight, a poetic 
paraphrase of the lisp and coo. The attitude of 
wonder is itself of course impeccable; one cannot 
possibly quarrel with anything so profoundly and 
beautifully human, or so productive, as it has 
been, of the finest note in poetry. What one re- 
sents somewhat is Mr. Kreymborg's reduction of it 
at times to a sort of babblement, as if he were 
determined to hear the world only when it spoke 
to him in monosyllables, and not in the primal 



SCEPTICISMS 

and thundering monosyllables, the superb mono- 
liths by which we measure our bewildered inse- 
curity, but in those rather which suggest the 
pinafore. This one forgave in the earlier volume, 
for there it had about it a pleasant irresponsibility 
and gusto; but in the later volume, in which Mr. 
Kreymborg abandons his "free forms" for plays 
in free verse, one's forgiveness is not unmixed. 
For what indeed has occurred here but that Mr. 
Kreymborg has made precisely a convention of this 
attitude of childlike wonder, and has, in every 
play here submitted, from tinkling farce to 
tinkling tragedy, reduced our heaven knows not 
too mature humanity to terms of mincing preco- 
cious childhood"? Let us grant that once or twice 
repeated this still has its exquisite charm, as of a 
tiny Mozartian melody twinkling from a minute 
music-box. To this charm certainly one surren- 
ders in "Manikin and Minikin" : in "Lima Beans" 
and "Jack's House," however, one is now and then 
just perceptibly annoyed by the persistent senti- 
mentality with which the poet reduces his 
personae not indeed merely to terms of childhood 
but more exactly to terms of dollhood : The boy 
and the girl regard each other with eyes perpetu- 
ally like saucers, their mouths for ever shaped to 
C248] 



ALFRED KREYMBORG 
the "Oo" ! of puppet wonder, their gestures un- 
varyingly rectangular and affectedly awkward. 
What, even from Mr. Kreymborg's viewpoint, is 
gained by this*? One perceives readily enough of 
course his wish to present his personae "in a light," 
in the light of human futility and its charming (or 
ridiculous) helplessness. The puppet, particu- 
larly in a tragic role, does this to perfection; it is 
an artifice, or indeed a mechanism, admirably 
suited to its purpose. But once done is there any 
use doing it again? Is it wise of Mr. Kreymborg 
to make this one note the burden of everything 
he writes? The themes of "People Who Die," 
it is true, or "Blue and Green," are unalike, and 
are played upon very often with great delicacy 
and precision, with a subtlety of conception which 
has beauty and dignity. But here also the heroes 
and heroines are dolls, studiously restricting them- 
selves to rhythms and ideas which frequently sug- 
gest nothing so much as Mother Goose. It is high 
time these precocious children grew up. 

And Mr. Kreymborg must surely be aware that 
as long as he stages for us merely this parade of 
dolls, no matter in what lights or costumes or 
charming quarrels or exquisitely nai've psychologi- 
cal self-searchings, these things will be but the 

[249] 



SCEPTICISMS 

surface twinkle, and the basic idea will remain 
"doll." The cords of a convention are about him. 
If Mr. Kreymborg wishes range and depth for his 
speculations, variety for his moods, will he not do 
well to abandon his whimsical flute, not alto- 
gether, for it has its beauties of clarity and liquid 
modulation, its droll breakings into the squeal 
of falsetto, and try now and then another in- 
strument'? There are limits after all to what one 
can say with a flute. And there is no doubt that 
Mr. Kreymborg has more to say. 



[250] 



XXVII 

Amy Lowell as Critic 

MISS LOWELL'S book, 'Tendencies in 
Modern American Poetry," while ap- 
parently a disinterested survey of the 
more conspicuous strains in contemporary Amer- 
ican poetry, is in reality no more disinterested 
than any other book by a partis pris critic. It 
is, essentially, an adroit, though in the pres- 
ent reviewer's opinion erroneous, piece of propa- 
ganda. Posing as an impresario, an intro- 
ducer of artists, Miss Lowell is really a Svengali ; 
she is determined to have the art of singing de- 
velop in her own way. She perceives, as other 
artist-critics have perceived (though she may do 
it unconsciously), that if her own theories of work 
are to be validated by an ecumenical judgment she 
must praise those theories when they are practised 
by others, judge them favourably in a manner 
which shall appear weightily objective, and, in 
every way possible, give them the focus of impor- 



SCEPTICISMS 

tance. Her right to believe these theories the best 
is of course incontestable. Her right to give this 
personal belief the air of objective analysis, or 
scientific judgment, is only defensible, however, 
if fact and reason support her. And in this re- 
spect we may question whether she has not clearly 
failed. 

This failure rests in the framework itself of 
Miss Lowell's book: it is in the framework of the 
book that she has built up her propaganda. This 
propaganda is to the effect that the six poets here 
discussed form so many stages in an evolutionary 
order; and that the most highly developed of these 
poets, in an evolutionary sense, are the Imagists 
H.D. and John Gould Fletcher. This, of course, 
from Miss Lowell's own viewpoint is so delightful 
and so nourishing a conclusion to reach that it at 
once becomes the critic's duty to suspect her of 
wish- thinking. Can she be right*? Let us see, 
briefly, how Miss Lowell does it. In her first two 
poets, Robinson and Frost, Miss Lowell finds a 
disillusionment with the ideas of the immediate 
past, a desire to break away, half-inhibited, and a 
backward yearning toward remembered beauty in 
restraint (this latter Miss Lowell calls "atavism," 
a word which, psychologically speaking, is dead; 
[252] 



AMY LOWELL AS CRITIC 

quite as mythological as a lamia). In the second 
pair of poets, Sandburg and Masters, she en- 
counters so violent a revolt against literary and 
social tradition that the poets are obsessed with it 
and are prone to neglect beauty altogether: they 
destroy, but do not creatively replace. Finally 
in the third pair of poets, Miss Lowell finds a com- 
plete emancipation from all moral or social issues, 
and a complete devotion to the creation of beauty 
in a new way. Miss Lowell is here careful to dis- 
claim any belief that these poets are necessarily 
any better than the others ; they are merely, in this 
evolutionary sense, more advanced. . . . 

Now, unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss 
accurately any sort of evolution except in terms of 
a single genus or line. It is profitless (probably) 
to argue whether the dog is evolutionary in ad- 
vance of the cat, the Brazilian kinkajoo in advance 
of the Baldwin apple, or the Jew's-harp in advance 
of the sonnet. These things are not related, do 
not evolve one from another. In much the same 
way, we have various different species of poet, and 
it is a falsification of the facts to say that one sort 
is necessarily in advance of another. Realists and 
romanticists (to use terms which are obsolescent 
but still meaningful) develop in parallels, not in 

O53;] 



SCEPTICISMS 

one line : one sort of realism may be newer or more 
advanced than another sort of realism, but its- 
evolution is a thing apart from the evolution of 
romanticism. So, too, with lyric poets, and narra- 
tive poets, and dramatic poets. They exist side 
by side contemporaneously, working in different 
directions, all of them evolving (if evolution must 
be insisted on), but evolving in parallel lines. 
One sees at once, therefore, the futility of en- 
deavouring to relate in any evolutionary sense such 
a realist as Frost with such a symbolist as Fletcher. 
Frost, in his own genre, is quite as highly advanced 
as Fletcher: so is Masters, and so is Sandburg. 
They are working in different materials, but ma- 
terials equally valid and important and true to 
life. Excursions in pure aesthetics will never re- 
place psycho-realism (to coin a word), nor vice 
versa: the two methods are not competitive, but 
complementary, and capable of fusion. One may 
prefer romanticism in a radical style to realism in 
a radical style, but neither can be said, dogmati- 
cally, to be higher in the scale of evolution than 
the other. 

In this regard, therefore, Miss Lowell's book 
wholly collapses. So far as truth is concerned, 
her evolutionary order might be inverted; if one 

[2543 



AMY LOWELL AS CRITIC 

excepts Robinson, who in point of poetic form is 
less radical than any of the others . . . Form! 
Of form, since it is absolute, the evolution can be 
discussed no matter by what type of poet em- 
ployed. One wonders, therefore, whether it was 
not the question of form which, in a vague way, 
Miss Lowell had in mind when she determined on 
an evolutionary treatment of these so dissimilar 
poets. Certainly, on that basis, she could have 
made out a better case for the order in which she 
had decided to arrange them. 

As for the bulk of Miss Lowell's book, aside 
from the matter of evolution, one reads it with 
mixed sensations. These essays were originally 
lectures, and they still smack of the women's club 
platform. They are colloquial, occasionally care- 
less, alternately patronizing, popular and esoteric. 
Coming from a poet who has to her credit so much 
verse of distinction it takes one a little aback to 
find here a prose which, as concerns style, is so 
undistinguished, even amateurish, and, as concerns 
matter, so often redundant, inaccurate, incon- 
sistent and inept. One is grateful for what Miss 
Lowell gives us of the poets' biographies; one is 
grateful, too, for many bits of shrewd perception. 
The papers on H.D. and Fletcher particularly 



SCEPTICISMS 

are, despite bad arrangement, interesting and now 
and then illuminating. But the discussions of 
Robinson and Frost, of Masters and Sandburg, 
while often eulogistic, really tell us nothing new 
and have that incompleteness which indicates, on 
the critic's part, a temperamental failure in rap- 
prochement. Miss Lowell sees life differently 
from Mr. Masters (as is natural), and in conse- 
quence she cannot help thinking that Spoon River 
would have been truer to life if it had been a 
hagiology. She sees life differently from Mr. 
Sandburg and writes many pages in an effort to 
prove that millionaires are often quite human and 
anarchists quite vulgar. Of Mr. Frost's preoccu- 
pation with the attempt to write verse which shall 
have the simplicity of conversational speech and 
its modulations she says nothing; instead she ex- 
claims at his failure to employ dialect in his New 
England poems a failure for which we can 
wisely be grateful. 

Taken all together, in conjunction with the 
fundamental falsity of her evolutionary scheme, 
these things compel one to conclude that a certain 
intellectual unripeness and sketchiness, a proneness 
to hasty and self-satisfying conclusions without 
careful or accurate survey of the facts, make of 

[256: 



AMY LOWELL AS CRITIC 

Miss Lowell an amateur rather than a serious 
critic. She is engaging, clever, an industrious 
assimilator of current ideas, and to some degree 
she sifts among them the bad from the good; but 
the instant she enters the psychological or philo- 
sophical or reflective spheres she proves herself a 
child, swayed very largely by her emotions and 
desires. She desires to think that Aldington never 
wrote a metrical line, and so, without looking to 
see, she thinks so and says so; and she is wrong. 
She desires to think that the imagist method is the 
last word in poetry, and evolves her scheme of 
evolution. Miss Lowell rebukes Mr. Sandburg 
for admitting social propaganda into his poetry. 
She would do well to remember that propaganda 
in literary criticism is just as dangerous if the too- 
eager critic ignores or distorts the facts. When 
the scientific method is used to demonstrate any- 
thing but the truth, it invariably proves a boome- 
rang. 



XXVIII 

The Ivory Tower: Louis 
Untermeyer as Critic 

THE critic of poetry who is also a poet is 
apt to be the most interesting and the 
most unreliable of critics. He is interest- 
ing, because his contact with contemporary poetry 
is intimate and emotional rather than, as in the 
case of the somewhat hypothetical judicial critic, 
merely speculative and coolly selective. He is 
vitally concerned with the success or failure of 
this or that particular strain of work. This makes 
for warmth in his criticism, and for that sort of 
intensity of perception which an enthusiasm will 
focus on a small area. But it makes, also, for 
unreliability as concerns matters which lie outside 
of that focus. This unreliability will be dimin- 
ished, of course, in the degree in which the critic 
is aware of his bias and makes allowance for it. 
Even so, it cannot be removed. 

Mr. Untermeyer, who has now co-ordinated in 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

a book his reviews of contemporary poetry, is a 
pretty good specimen of this kind of critic; and it 
seems appropriate that his book should be examined 
by one of his own species, and, in particular, by 
one who for the most part has opposed and been 
opposed by Mr. Untermeyer at every turn. Mr. 
Untermeyer and his reviewer share, of course, cer- 
tain likes and dislikes : their respective circles have, 
as would be inevitable, a considerable area in 
common. But in the main they reflect tendencies 
which are antagonistic, and it would perhaps be 
in the interests of poetic justice that these should 
be frankly confessed. 

Mr. Untermeyer's evolution has been interest- 
ing. Leaving out of account his parodies, his first 
books were a volume of sentimental and tradi- 
tional love poems and a volume of lyrics having 
the title "Challenge" and pretty well infused with 
the doctrine, popular a few years ago, of the "red 
blood" school. Both books revealed Mr. Unter- 
meyer as essentially a conservative poet; one who 
did not by nature love to experiment; one who, 
indeed, felt no compulsion toward any kind of 
artistic innovation, for the patent reason that he 
had nothing particularly new or intransigeantly 
individual to say. Any traces of radicalism he 



SCEPTICISMS 

possessed were either in the shape of this "red- 
blooded Americanism," a sort of localized "I am 
the master of my fate;" or in the shape of social 
radicalism, a desire for a more democratic, or shall 
I say, more socialistic, kind of democracy. The 
chances are that if he had been left undisturbed 
Mr. Untermeyer would have continued to write, 
proficiently and lustily enough, on these themes. 
. . . But Mr. Untermeyer, like many another 
conservative poet, was not to be left undisturbed. 
It was his misfortune that there were radicals 
maturing; and beginning about 1911 these revolu- 
tionaries began throwing their bombs into the 
aesthetic arena with deadly effect. The world of 
letters was destined for rapid changes. Masefield 
and Gibson first appeared, then the Georgians, 
then our realists Masters and Frost, then the 
Imagists, and Amy Lowell, and Sandburg; and 
finally the nomadic and unprincipled tribe of 
"Others." 

It is to Mr. Untermeyer's credit that in this 
pandemonium, so distressingly not of his own 
choosing, he managed to keep his feet. He was 
sturdy and intelligent; and if he could not pre- 
cisely hope to lead this somewhat capriciously 
enthusiastic mob, he at any rate succeeded in fol- 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

lowing it, with considerable discernment, and at 
no great distance. . . . The successes of these 
radicals, however, left him in an uncomfortable 
position. Oddly enough, Mr. Untermeyer had 
conceived himself to be somewhat radical he 
had, I dare say, seen himself, (which of us has 
not*?) as an intrepid explorer of dark continents; 
and it nonplussed him a little to find his radicalism 
all of a sudden so nakedly vieux jeu. But he 
lacked neither courage nor adaptability. It was 
not long before he had begun, as a poet, to bring 
himself up to date, to vary the length of his lines 
a bit, and, as a critic, to fight vigorously and keenly 
for ideals wisely, though perhaps a little grudg- 
ingly, modified. The first horrible chaos cleared 
up quickly enough ; and Mr. Untermeyer was soon 
in possession of a consistent and well-edged policy. 
This policy he now puts before us in his survey 
of contemporary American poetry. It is, as we 
should expect, an elaboration and broadening of 
the principles underlying his own two early books ; 
his chief tenets are Americanism, lustihood, glorifi- 
cation of reality (facing of the world of fact) 
democracy (a word which few of his pages lack) 
and, of course, the postponed, though not to be 
omitted, inevitable beauty. These tenets he 

[2613 



SCEPTICISMS 

works hard, particularly those of Americanism, 
lustihood and democracy. These are, indeed, his 
touchstones. It is "Americanism" he sees, above 
all, in Masters, Frost, Robinson, even Amy 
Lowell; it is "democracy" he sees above all, in 
Giovannitti, Wood, Oppenheim, Sandburg, Brody, 
Lola Ridge; and it is chiefly for their manifesta- 
tion of these qualities that, apparently, Mr. Unter- 
meyer accords these poets the place of honour in 
his book, and, ipso facto, the place of honour in 
contemporary poetry. Poetry, according to Mr. 
Untermeyer "is expressing itself once more in the 
terms of democracy. This democracy is two-fold : 
a democracy of the spirit and a democracy of 
speech. This is the unifying quality that con- 
nects practically all of the poets with whom I pro- 
pose to deal; it intensifies what is their inherent 
Americanism; and it charges their varied art with 
a native significance. . . ." Art, our critic goes 
on to say, is a community expression : away, there- 
fore, with the pernicious doctrine of "art for art's 
sake" ; and down with the ivory tower. Art has a 
human function to perform. It has no right to 
cloister itself, to preoccupy itself solely with 
beauty. 

Well, these ideas are appealing, they have their 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

precise value. Let us grant in particular the 
Tightness, and indeed the commonplace inevita- 
bility, of the fact that periodically a literature will 
renew itself by a descent into the Bethesda well 
of demotic speech. We may go even further, and 
say that from the sociological viewpoint nothing 
can be more interesting than the reflection of social 
changes and social hungers in literature. But, 
here, I think, we must pause. The implications 
become a trifle ominous. Are we to conclude from 
these premises that art is any the less art because 
it fails to satisfy a contemporary hunger for this 
or that social change"? Are we to conclude that 
art is any the more richly art because it bears 
conspicuously and consciously the label "Made in 
America'"? Is Poe to be judged, as an artist, in- 
ferior to Whitman because he is less nationalistic 
or less preoccupied with social consciousness 1 ? Or, 
indeed, since Mr. Untermeyer really raises the 
question, is such an art as Foe's, which as well 
as any illustrates the virtues and defects of the 
theory of art for art's sake, a whit the less a form 
of community expression, a whit the less satisfying 
to the human hunger for articulation, than such 
an art as Mr. Untermeyer seems to favour 4 ? 
These questions, it seems to me, can intelli- 

[263] 



SCEPTICISMS 

gently be answered only in the negative. It is at 
this point that the line of cleavage between the 
tendencies for which Mr. Untermeyer stands and 
those for which his reviewer stands become most 
sharply apparent. For Mr. Untermeyer's book 
answers all these questions, my implication, in the 
affirmative. I do not mean that he dispenses with 
the aesthetic approach altogether in his appraisal 
of contemporary poets: his aesthetic approach I 
shall come to later. But I do mean that Mr. Un- 
termeyer allows nationalistic and sociological con- 
siderations to play an equal part with the aesthetic. 
To put it curtly, he likes poetry with a message, 
poetry which is politically, from his viewpoint, on 
the right side. Surely he must perceive the short- 
sightedness and essential viciousness of this? So- 
cial ideas are local and temporary: they change 
like the fashions, the materials with which they 
deal are always in flux, and the odds are great that 
what is a burning issue today will be a familiar 
fact, and the occasion of a yawn, tomorrow. 
These are, from the standpoint of the artist, mere 
superficialities : if they are to be touched they must 
be touched lightly, tangentially grazed. It is not 
to the political odes of Wordsworth, Coleridge, 
Swinburne, that we most joyously turn in reread- 
[264] 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

ing those poets. And the social problems of Shel- 
ley's "Revolt of Islam" merely excite our curiosity. 
Here, then, lies the great fault of Mr. Unter- 
meyer's book. This bias has harmfully deflected it 
from the very outset, it has cast into undue promi- 
nence the work of Oppenheim, Giovannitti, 
Charles Erskine Scott Wood, Alter Brody; it has 
put a wrong emphasis on the work of Sandburg; 
and, per contra, it has thrown into a shadow by no 
means deserved the work of such poets as do not, in 
Mr. Untermeyer's opinion, fulfil their social con- 
tracts, such poets as T. S. Eliot, John Gould 
Fletcher, Wallace Stevens, Maxwell Bodenheim, 
the Imagists, and the entire strain in poetry for 
which they inconspicuously stand, the strain which 
we indicate when we use the phrase "art for art's 
sake." The work of the latter poets is not, in 
bulk, great : their positions are not, as concerns rep- 
utation, secure. Yet I think there can be no ques- 
tion that all of them have given us poems which, 
judged as works of art, are clearly finer, and more 
universal in appeal, than anything as yet given us 
by Oppenheim, Giovannitti, Wood, or Brody. 
The latter four are, in fact with all due allow- 
ance made for their vitality, sincerity, and fre- 
quent skill simply, viewed as artists, mediocre. 

[265] 



SCEPTICISMS 

Mere energy will not save them. It is indeed 
open to question whether they do not deserve the 
same indictment as thinkers; as deliverers of the 
"message." And to honour them as copiously as 
Mr. Untermeyer honours them is in a measure to 
derogate from the true value of those among whom 
they are placed Frost, Masters, Amy Lowell, 
and Robinson. 

But this sociological and nationalistic bias, 
while it is the prime factor in Mr. Untermeyer's 
error, is not the only one. It will not completely 
diagnose Mr. Untermeyer's case; it will not alone 
explain his too enthusiastic preferences, his too 
acrimonious antipathies. Let us revert for a mo- 
ment to his love of the art that bears a message. 
This hunger carries with it in Mr. Untermeyer's 
mind homologous hungers in the spheres of meta- 
physics and aesthetics, hungers which reveal them- 
selves as clearly in his poetry as in his criticism. 
His interests are, in short, as was indicated ear- 
lier, primitively naive; he is oratorically assert- 
ive, a trifle consciously robust; and quite aside, 
therefore, from questions of social ethics, his predi- 
lections in poetry are for the unflinchingly mas- 
culine, the explicitly affirmative (what Nietzsche 
termed the "yea-saying"), the triumphantly and 

[266] 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

not too reflectively acceptant; the vigorous, in 
short, rather than the cerebral or oblique or disil- 
lusioned, the enthusiastic and downright or sanely 
sentimental rather than the interpretative or an- 
alytic or psychologically tenuous. 

And here we come upon the matter of Mr. 
Untermeyer's aesthetic equipment, and pitch at 
once, flatly, upon his very serious limitations. 
Within these limitations Mr. Untermeyer has, if 
we recall his two first volumes of verse, grown re- 
markably; he has extended his sympathies further 
than one might have hoped. But, at the critical 
point, they fail. Beyond the delicately overtoned 
lyrics of de la Mare, unconventionally conven- 
tional in form, relatively simple in range, or, on 
the other hand, beyond the matter-of-fact incisive 
satires of Spoon River, or the slightly too smoothly 
turned etchings of Robinson, they cannot reach. 
And, unfortunately for Mr. Untermeyer, it is pre- 
cisely in these two directions that the fruit-work is 
being done. In the former direction it gives us 
the work of H.D., of Pound (at his best), of 
Fletcher, of Stevens, of Bodenheim; in the latter, 
that of Eliot, Kreymborg, Masters, (his later vein), 
and, tentatively, that of various contributors to 
Others. What these two groups have in common 
[267] 



SCEPTICISMS 

is the fact that they are both after a kind of abso- 
lute poetry a poetry which delivers no message, 
is imbued with no doctrine, a poetry which exists 
only for the sake of magic, magic of beauty on 
the one hand, magic of reality on the other, but 
both struck at rather through a play of implication 
than through matter-of-fact statement. This sort 
of poetry is of course unmoral and unsociological. 
It is not idolatrous: the circumstances, the emo- 
tions, out of which it springs, are its instruments, 
merely, the musical strings on which it strikes, 
not the items in a conscious ritual. It is the be-all 
and end-all of such poetry that it should be a per- 
fectly formed and felt work of art : and the greater 
the elaboration and subtlety consistent with such 
perfection the more inexhaustible will it be, the 
longer it will endure. Unhappily for us and for 
Mr. Untermeyer, this type of poetry merely ex- 
cites his animosity. When it is in the Fletcher- 
Bodenheim-Stevens vein he grants its skilful use 
of word-colour, but is distressed by its apparent 
emptiness; when it is in the El iot-Kreymborg- Wil- 
liams vein he is annoyed by its tenuousness, baffled 
by its elusive use of introspection; and he takes 
refuge in terming it decadent, or effeminate, or 
morbid. It is not sufficiently affirmative for Mr. 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

Untermeyer : it does not obviously enough encour- 
age him to believe in God, or in the divinity of 
man, or in the Tightness of democracy, or in the 
beauty and immortality of life. Mr. Untermeyer 
suspects it of a kind of negativism. It is not frank 
with him, will not state its text with sufficient can- 
dour. Moreover one suspects in Mr. Untermeyer's 
reiterated denials of anything "new" in such work, 
as well as in his use of such phrases as "self-adu- 
latory radicalism" the survival of some injury to a 
now hopelessly overborne belief that he is a radi- 
cal himself. 

It is, in other words, precisely the finer note in 
contemporary poetry which Mr. Untermeyer most 
completely misses. For two-thirds of the gamut 
his perceptions are, if not subtle, at any rate sound. 
His discussions of Frost, Robinson, Amy Lowell, 
Masters, are adequate, sometimes penetrating; 
though it would be a mistake to call them pro- 
found or to imply that Mr. Untermeyer deals 
more than superficially with the many aesthetic 
problems they raise. He says good things too, 
of Lindsay and Sandburg, even of Fletcher, Boden- 
heim and Kreymborg. But the conditions are 
adverse. He has not succeeded in detaching him- 
self sufficiently from the here and now; and in 
[269] 



SCEPTICISMS 

consequence his examination of contemporary 
poetry, though ably written for the most part, is 
not wisely proportioned, nor intelligently discrim- 
inative, and it is subject, therefore, to rather sav- 
age revisals at the hands of time. Twenty years 
from now will these eulogistic chapters on Wood, 
Giovannitti, Wheelock, Brody, look perhaps a 
trifle odd by comparison with the cavalier and ex- 
tremely incidental treatment accorded to such 
poets as Fletcher or Eliot? 

If so, I think we have laid bare the reasons. 
Art is art, not sociology, not philosophy. It 
may well use these things (and it may well be the 
richer for using them) but it cannot serve them. 
The best art is seldom doctrinaire; and when it is, 
the doctrine soon becomes the least vital element 
in it, important, perhaps, only for having supplied 
the initial impulse. And, moreover, art grows. 
It thrusts forward tentacles in new directions, de- 
velops new sensibilities. It is forever extending 
the sphere of man's consciousness. And it will do 
no good for the critic to deny this, or to call such 
advances meaningless. 

It remains to say that in a sense Mr. Unter- 
meyer's book is one for which we have been wait- 
ing: it is the only comprehensive survey we have 
[270] 



LOUIS UNTERMEYER 

had; it covers the ground thoroughly; it is always 
entertaining, frequently informative. The only 
regret of the present reviewer (who, it must be re- 
membered, is as parti pris in one direction as Mr. 
Untermeyer in another) is that so able a writer 
should be guided by principles so specious and 
biasses so obvious ; should so seldom get down, as it 
were, to aesthetic fundamentals ; so seldom analyse 
aesthetically our successes and failures; and so 
largely limit himself to the pungently descriptive, 
to a consideration, merely, of the more superficial 
aspects of contemporary poetry. . . . To which 
of course the answer is, curtly, "de gustibus." 



XXIX 

Magic or Legerdemain? 

IN every generation there are artists, men 
whose intentions are clearly enough honest, 
who tell us that in the act of artistic creation 
there is nothing mysterious or uncontrollable and 
that art is solely an affair of technique employed 
with a maximum of skill in accordance with aes- 
thetic laws. At the beginning of a preceding 
chapter, that on the "Mechanism of Poetic In- 
spiration," I myself made statements which in this 
connection may, to some, appear confusing : I com- 
mented with some acerbity on the all too prevalent 
notion of critics and poets to the effect that there 
is something "mysterious" or "translunar" about 
poetic inspiration, something "which altogether 
escapes human analysis." These statements have 
indeed already proved misleading. I have even, 
as a result of them, been accused of maintaining, 
as Poe did, that a poem is a mathematically cal- 
culable product, a thing which can be constructed 
[272] 



MAGIC OR LEGERDEMAIN? 

bit by bit, synthesized under the microscope in 
clearest view. That however is a theory which I 
have had no intention of maintaining. I main- 
tain only that the finished product can and will 
profitably be submitted to analysis. The chemi- 
cal contents of a substance may be fully known, 
and the scientist may none the less be unable to 
produce the same thing synthetically. A poem 
may be exhaustively analysed, and its constituent 
motives noted on a relatively fine scale, and, for 
that matter, it should be so analysed; but that with 
the knowledge thus acquired any individual could 
proceed to write a Kubla Khan or a Divine Com- 
edy is let us say open to question. 

For even if we agree in this regard with the fun- 
damental (though not with some of the derived) 
principles of Freud and Kostyleff, and even 
though one therefore holds that the functional val- 
ues of the arts in the life of man will be pre- 
cisely understood, and defined (perhaps danger- 
ously?), and the propulsive springs of the indi- 
vidual work of art with some clarity perceived; 
one does not on that account necessarily believe 
that the poet, who gives us a poem in which there 
is however small a grain of that sort of beauty 
which we call "magic," knows at every step in the 

t>733 



SCEPTICISMS 

course of composition precisely what he is doing. 
Quite, in fact, the contrary. I do not think I have 
ever believed or maintained anything but that it is 
usually during a poet's best moments that his me- 
dium is least consciously under his control. There 
are, I know, poets who argue, with their own cases 
in mind, that they know at every instant just what 
effect they wish to obtain and how to obtain it. 
One is permitted to doubt this statement, and to 
discredit it is not difficult. The most obvious 
answer is simply that it is nearly always the poet 
without "magic," the poet who does precisely con- 
trol his medium at all moments, and who for that 
reason gives us a poetry of close approximations 
rather than of glittering achievement, who, natur- 
ally enough, denies the efficacy of the subconscious. 
But that retort is a trifle too recriminatory and 
easy. It is more profitable to assume for the sake 
of argument that such poets do, actually, strew 
their verses with the jewels for which we fool- 
ishly hunger, and, having made that assumption, 
to ask them whether after all they are so sure that 
the strewing of them was foreseen, calculated, and 
accomplished with conscious precision ... or 
whether, for that matter, they know any too well 
how their jewels were originally come by.' 

1:274:1 



MAGIC OR LEGERDEMAIN? 

The affair is really one of misunderstanding; to 
throw any light upon it, however feebly, com- 
pels us to shift our ground, and to inquire a little 
into the state of mind of the poet during actual 
composition and the preliminary soundings which 
precede it. There is, I suppose, no state of mind 
which to the poet is more exquisite, or which he 
would find harder to describe. It might by some 
be denned as merely a heightening of ordinary 
consciousness: but while that is perhaps partially 
true, it would be more completely true to say that 
it is a sort of dual consciousness, heightened no 
doubt on its ordinary plane, but conspicuously dif- 
ferent from the usual state of mind in that the 
many passages which lead downward to the sub- 
conscious are thrown open, and the communica- 
tions between the two planes, upper and lower, 
are free and full. The process by which this dual- 
ism is achieved may or may not be deliberate. It 
may be achieved by an effort, by the premeditated 
touching off, as it were, of an idea which, one 
knows, will explode downward with ramifying 
fires through the mine-chambers upon which by as- 
sociation one desires to draw, or, quite as often, the 
initial explosion may be accidental, the starting of 
the train of fire by the merest chance of phrase en- 



SCEPTICISMS 

countered or itself tossed up from the subconscious 
in response to some pressure from the world of 
sense. During this state of dual consciousness 
there is a sense in which it is true that the poet has 
his subconscious under control. Even when work- 
ing at most rapid intensity, he is sagacious of his 
quarry, and although, if at any moment inter- 
rupted with the question "What is it that you 
pursue with such delight what is it that you hope 
to obtain by rejecting that word and taking this, 
what superiority is there in this rhythm to that 1 ?" 
he might be totally at a loss for his answer, none 
the less he feels in the most intangible of ways 
that he knows to the minutest detail the value of 
the impalpabilities with which he is at battle. He 
is diversely and brilliantly conscious of all this, 
but conscious only in a peculiar way: he is aware 
of more than he precisely sees. His decisions 
themselves are largely conscious, but the logical 
train by which he reaches any such decision has 
undergone such a synhaeresis as to have been to all 
intents obliterated. Regarding his decision at 
such-and-such a point to break, for example his 
regular mode of rhythm and to introduce an inter- 
lude which shall act as a voice antiphonally heard, 
he can hardly be said to have foreseen in advance 



MAGIC OR LEGERDEMAIN? 

its effectiveness or, for that matter, even its exist- 
ence. He has, let us say, just finished the last line 
of the preceding movement. It is quite open to 
him to proceed to a second movement growing log- 
ically and persuasively out of the first. But per- 
haps, for some unglimpsed reason, some twinkling 
signal from the depths of the subconscious which 
he searches with heaven knows what intensity, he 
is unsatisfied with this, he desires something else, 
it is something else which is needed if his hunger is 
to be appeased. What is this? And how shall 
he find it? Not, surely, by a reference to the 
many and so ludicrously simple rules he knows, 
nor even to the filed items of experience, which are 
useful but incomplete: at such a moment his 
salvation is only in an adamantine command to the 
whole conscious realm of his mind to be silent, 
and at once his entire attitude is that of one who 
listens. For his dissatisfaction with the fair 
enough coin tendered him by the upper plane of 
consciousness, the coin manufactured by labour and 
patience and skill, is itself an indication from the 
lower plane of consciousness that that conscious- 
ness has something finer to offer, something which 
it will gladly surrender if only the invitation have 
tact. The sensation of dissatisfaction is, it should 

[>773 



SCEPTICISMS 

be noted, not merely a negative affair. It relates 
sharply to the thing with which he is dissatisfied, 
hints at the specific incompleteness of that thing. 
And it is about this spark-point of dissatisfaction 
that he proceeds to generate, out of the fine air of 
expectancy, the combustible vapour which shall 
invite the explosion. It is then, if he is fortunate, 
that he does not merely find, but actually hears, 
the rhythm, the melody, the singular and unpre- 
meditated tone of the next movement. Its su- 
periority to what he had at first in mind is mani- 
fest. And his poem at this point takes on the 
glow and impetus of which perhaps it has hitherto 
not been able quite to guess the secret. It re- 
mains then only to take this tone-colour, so charm- 
ingly a gift, and give it a precision of shape to 
relate it organically, by employment of ideas akin 
to those in the preceding movement, with the gen- 
eral theme of the poem. 

If something like this, therefore, is true of the 
method of poetic composition, it will be seen, when 
one considers its impalpability, how wide is the 
margin for error when one seeks with any exact- 
ness to define it, or, with regard to its use of con- 
scious and subconscious, to delimit it. The poet, 
it is perceived, no matter how much he may call 



MAGIC OR LEGERDEMAIN? 

upon the subconscious and deliver himself over to 
it, is at all times pretty much aware of what he is 
doing, and why ; though of the precise reward for 
it he may be singularly uncertain. It is with this 
fact in mind that some poets belittle the value of 
the subconscious, underestimate, perhaps, the fre- 
quency with which they call upon it. They do 
not remember, when the poem is finished, at what 
points, or how many, they called for this assist- 
ance; nor have they the modesty to admit that 
those things in the poem which have greatest 
magic and beauty are usually not the product of 
skill, merely, but the skilful use of a wealth for 
the most part subterranean, a natural resource, a 
wealth to which they have been given access occa- 
sionally, but a wealth in the deposit of which they 
have played as little conscious part as the surface 
of the earth plays in the crystallization of dia- 
monds. One cannot be a poet without a fine sen- 
sibility; one's sensibility is hardly controllable; 
and the greater part of its deposit has been accum- 
ulated long before the poet is aware of its exist- 
ence. 

This is not to say that anybody can be a great 
poet by making drafts on his subconscious. One 
cannot dig up jewels from a commonplace sensi- 

[279] 



SCEPTICISMS 

bility, though quartz crystals may be plentiful. 
But in the case of the poet who is, however inter- 
mittently, a genuine poet, one may safely say, I 
think, that it is when he is most the craftsman 
that he is least magically the poet. Craftsman- 
ship is the skill with which the poet turns his sub- 
conscious treasure to account. Without that ap- 
plication, no matter how deft it may be, mere skill, 
operating, as it were, in the air, will only approxi- 
mate and imitate and endeavour to deceive. It is 
a thing done with hands, a legerdemain, not magic ; 
one soon perceives the trick, and if one enjoys it 
one does so with the intellectual coolness of ad- 
miration, not with full emotional surrender, the 
uncontrolled surrender of one's own aroused sub- 
conscious. . . . When craftsmanship induces that 
surrender it proves itself to be more than crafts- 
manship. It discloses its essentially compulsory 
nature. And that the compulsions which give it 
colour are often analysable is not to say that the 
magic it achieves is a magic which the poet can 
altogether calculate. 



C280] 



XXX 

Appendix: A Note on Values 



IN the course of rereading the preceding pa- 
pers for the last time before sending them off 
to the printer, I find many things which, as 
no doubt even my most sympathetic reader will 
agree, ought to disquiet me. I have confessed 
with some candour in the introduction that per- 
haps the ruling motive of my activities as a critic 
has been a desire, partly conscious and partly un- 
conscious, to secure an understanding and recogni- 
tion of the particular sorts of poetry which I dis- 
cover myself, in this singular world, doomed to 
write; but I begin to wonder, at this point, how 
honest or how complete that confession can be 
considered to be. In what way, when I write a 
critique, largely laudatory of John Gould 
Fletcher, or of Maxwell Bodenheim, or of Jean 
de Bosschere, do I clearly advance any interest 
of my own 1 ? That I do so at all in these and in 

[2813 



SCEPTICISMS 

other instances is, I think, open to question. If 
the methods of such poets as these are exclusively 
right, and if these are the methods upon which pos- 
terity will set for ever the seal of durability, it is 
obvious enough that myself the critic has dealt 
myself the poet a shrewd blow in the back. In 
my attempt to be honest with my reader have I 
been a trifle dishonest with myself? It is not too 
precisely demonstrable that the virtues for which 
I praise Fletcher or Bodenheim, or Masters or 
Hueffer, or Lawrence or Eliot, are the virtues at 
which, in the course of a struggling evolution, my 
own poetry might be said to aim. They are, in 
fact, often essentially different. An error has here 
been detected: in my introduction I ignored the 
fact that an artist may, and often does, react 
sympathetically to a species of art quite antipa- 
thetic to his own. In this error I may possibly, 
therefore, have misled my reader: he may have 
concluded, reading the book in this light, that the 
notes of Fletcher or of Bodenheim or of Masters 
or of de Bosschere or of Amy Lowell or of Eliot 
or of Gibson or of Abercrombie, since I gave them 
about equal consideration, are regarded by me as 
notes discoverably on a parity of importance in 
my own work. Well, I have been accused of 

1:282] 



APPENDIX 

chameleonism, and to some degree of it I have 
pleaded guilty; but to assume such a gift of his- 
trionism as this would be fantastic. Let it be 
considered sufficient if I say that in this regard 
the range of my tastes is wider than that of my 
abilities. When I praise Eliot or Frost or Boden- 
heim or William Carlos Williams, let some 
slight trace of disinterestedness be conceded to me. 
Or is it on the other hand merely cowardice? 

ii 

But to be exact, the whole question at issue is 
far too complex for so curt an answer, whether 
negative or affirmative. It is true that a poet- 
critic will tend to praise, in the work of his con- 
temporary poets, that sort of work most sympa- 
thetic with his own; but human temperaments 
are amazingly unlike, and the chances are much 
against his ever finding a poet with a temperament 
which resembles his own in more than one tiny 
particular. Here, indeed, we touch another 
spring of widespread, though unconscious, dishon- 
esty in all criticism. For it is precisely by these 
tiny particulars, often of so slight artistic impor- 
tance, that the course of the artist-critic is most de- 
flected. I have just remarked that Fletcher's 



SCEPTICISMS 

work was remarkably unlike my own, crediting 
myself therefore with some nobility for praising 
it; but it would be more completely true to add 
that nevertheless when I read the work of Fletcher 
I detect in it, no matter how much his technique 
may at moments alienate or alarm me, some subtle 
indefinable scarcely apprehensible kinship with 
my own ; and this kinship outweighs all other con- 
siderations. Not the least of the critic's embar- 
rassments is the fact that these subtle kinships are 
totally untranslatable : they are so impalpable, they 
are so purely, often, in the realm of sensation, they 
resist so mercurially any effort to pin them to the 
walls of thought, that in most cases, since he is 
moved to praise, the critic will find himself prais- 
ing his poet for reasons quite other than those 
which originally moved him. Reduced to a sin- 
gle sentence perhaps his genuine reaction to such a 
poet would be "Well ! this poet feels the same way 
about that word that I do"; or "his sense of 
rhythm is curiously like mine, with certain slight 
and intriguing differences"; or "it is quite clear 
that he found that out for himself just as I did." 
And such a reaction is not, as it may at first appear, 
an exceptional sort of vanity. All human judg- 
ments or tastes reduce themselves under pressure 

1:284: 



APPENDIX 

to the terms of the pathetic ego which stands as 
judge. It is hypocrisy to pretend anything else. 
But it is unfortunate, just the same, that critics so 
seldom lay bare these tiny but determinant factors 
of like or dislike, and so frequently allow them to 
colour their attitude toward other parts of an art- 
ist's work with which these factors have little or 
nothing to do. Because Matthew Arnold was a 
teacher, or a Victorian, or wrote occasionally, as it 
were, from Rugby Chapel, is no adequate reason 
for refusing to like "Dover Beach" or his trans- 
lation of Maurice de Guerin's "Centaur." 

in 

But my kindly imaginary interlocutor asks me, 
at this point, how it is, if we like a work of art 
only because it reflects ourselves, or because it 
gives expression to some part of us which was inar- 
ticulate, or consciousness to some part of us which 
was unconscious, that it is possible for us to like 
so many and so dissimilar kinds of work. The an- 
swer is simple. It is precisely because, on the 
whole, the reflections of the human organism, or 
consciousness, in the work of any particular art- 
ist, are so tiny and so incomplete, that we are 
compelled, if we are to discover ourselves with 

[285:1 



SCEPTICISMS 

anything like completeness or find ourselves mir- 
rored at full length, to gather our reflections m 
splintered fragments, to assemble the portrait bit 
by bit. If the poet-critic, therefore, sets about 
composing a self-portrait which shall never em- 
ploy a stroke in the first person singular, but em- 
ploy only those aspects of himself which he finds 
in his contemporaries an undertaking which may 
or may not be conscious, usually not it should be 
perceived at once that the process will be labori- 
ous and confused, that it will lead him at many 
points far afield, and that if the resultant portrait 
is to attain anything like completeness it will 
necessarily be forced to draw, for some items, on 
sources which at first glimpse might appear un- 
promising. Confused it must, certainly, seem to 
the reader, provided that the reader has at all been 
let into the secret; provided that the poet-critic 
has at all confessed what he himself may not have 
realized, the essential self-portrayal of any kind of 
criticism. For what will be the key to this parade 
of likes and dislikes at what points is one to pre- 
sume there was an intention of emphasis'? It 
would be simple enough, no doubt, if any human 
organism maintained a standard rate of efficiency, 
burned at a standard degree of intensity, never 
C286] 



APPENDIX 

varying in luminosity or height. But the human 
organism is variable. Its identity is lost if a sec- 
tion of it be frozen for analysis; its identity is 
largely in its motion; and a motion so irregular 
is incommensurable and unpredictable. The poet- 
critic is a creature of varying moods. He dis- 
likes today what he will like tomorrow. He finds 
his tastes changing, fed to satiety, outgrown, re- 
turned to in a modified form. Moreover his per- 
ceptions cannot be standardized: they are clearer 
at one time than at another, and he is not likely 
to perceive this variability. At what degree of 
clarity shall one say that his perceptions are most 
in character when he says he likes So-and-so, for 
such-and-such reasons, or when he likes somebody 
else for reasons obviously contradictory*? To this 
question there can be no downright answer. One 
can surmise, taking into account all the evidence, 
but one can do no more unless the critic himself 
comes forward, key in hand. 

IV 

At this point it would be appropriate for me to 
supply a kind of glossary of the foregoing pages, 
explaining in the case of each study how I had hap- 
pened to take toward the particular poet the par- 



SCEPTICISMS 

ticular attitude disclosed. Mr. Bodenheim, for 
instance, has said to me, shrewdly enough, that 
my estimate of his work is less than just because 
I go out of my way, apparently, to condemn it for 
its lack of philosophical background. "Why," 
remarks Mr. Bodenheim "drag in philosophy 
(which I assure you does not concern me) except 
to advertise a quality in poetry at which your own 
work is aimed*?" Well, there we are. I like 
poetry which plays with ideas quite as joyously as 
with moods or sensations. I should regret it ex- 
tremely if during any considerable part of my 
life (for at all events it could hardly last longer) 
mood-symbolism and impressionism of this kind, 
exquisite and fragmentary, should attain such 
a popularity as to exclude from the public atten- 
tion any work which differed from it. It is of 
course ridiculous, as Mr. Bodenheim might ob- 
serve, to insist that a mosaic should have for its 
background a temple or cathedral ; but it seems to 
me not amiss, at a moment when filigree exacts so 
much attention, to remind those who peer in dark 
corners of wall or floor for delicate bits of tracery 
that above their heads are ceiling and sky. Archi- 
tecture, whether human or superhuman, is being 
too often overlooked. 

[288] 



APPENDIX 



To pursue this method any further into the 
realm of autobiography, however, would be too 
painfully minute and dull. It would, indeed, 
necessitate a second book longer than the first, a 
book of which the nature would be psychological 
rather than literary. A considerable portion of it 
would have to deal with my personal acquaintance 
with my fellow poets, and with the effect this has 
had upon my essays in criticism. Is one necessa- 
rily kinder to a poet whom one has encountered 
in the flesh, particularly if one has found him 
agreeable*? No, one is merely more urbane. 
One spares him certain sharpnesses, no doubt, the 
more brutal of one's weapons are abstained from, 
one may even make a more determined effort than 
otherwise to find out his good qualities, but essen- 
tially one's attitude is unshaken. . . . That is, if 
one is honest. But I confess that in this regard 
as in others I am only human. There are one or 
two instances in which personal acquaintance 
seems to have given me an insight into a poet's 
work which not even the resultantly increased at- 
tention could otherwise have done. Perhaps one 
loses a trace of one's neutrality. It is possible 

1:289:1 



SCEPTICISMS 

that one should refrain from acquaintanceship al- 
together, and make of one's self a machine for re- 
cording sensations, as exact, within its advertised 
limits, as is psychologically attainable. It would 
be one's reward, of course, to be considered ego- 
tistical and dishonest. 

VI 

I refrain from further autobiography, therefore ; 
but there remains one point which in the interests 
of justice should be illuminated. It is impos- 
sible to supply for every critical study the com- 
plete personal key, but there is a pass-key to the 
present collection which should not be overlooked. 
It will be observed that throughout this book I 
have seldom made, as regards any specific poet, flat 
assertions of importance, or rank: what values I 
have employed are for the most part comparative, 
or implied merely in the length and seriousness of 
the treatment. If I were asked, for example, 
whether I considered any of the poets with whom 
I deal great poets, or poets nearly great, or poets 
who had attained to a power or perfection, at mo- 
ments, which was likely to preserve their names 
for an indefinite period, I should preserve an em- 
barrassed silence. I do not know. As concerns 
[290] 



APPENDIX 

the greater number of them the answer would be 
unqualifiedly negative. If I have treated them 
seriously, particularly those poets who are Ameri- 
can, it is largely because they have a certain posi- 
tion, because they have raised issues which cannot 
be flippantly dismissed, must be squarely met. 
For the present, the majority of our poets are not 
so much poets as symptoms. And, for that mat- 
ter, at a moment such as this, which seems so 
clearly a prelude rather than a performance, it is 
the symptoms which are most important. No fur- 
ther apology seems necessary. 

VII 

The point is one on which I should like to di- 
gress, if indeed digression is theoretically possible 
in such notes as these, of which digression is the 
principle. I am asked whether I do not consider 
that certain of the works of Robert Frost, or Edgar 
Lee Masters, or Amy Lowell, or Vachel Lindsay, 
have the qualities of the finest art. And here I 
must confess that I am much harder to please than 
even the studies which compose this book would 
suggest. Because I enjoy the work of Masters, 
or Lindsay or Miss Lowell is no reason, as too 
many American critics seem to think it is, for 



SCEPTICISMS 

supposing the work "great" or "fine," or whatever 
word one wishes to use for defining that suprem- 
est of pleasures one derives from a work of art. 
The pleasures, of this sort, which contemporary 
poetry affords me are for the most part on a quite 
secondary plane: the moments at which they rise 
to the other plane are few. To this secondary 
plane I should unhesitatingly relegate such fa- 
vourites, delightful as they are, as "The Congo" 
or "Patterns" no, not unhesitatingly, but I 
should do it. We are brilliant, we are clever to 
the point of brilliance, in such poems, but we are 
not fine. Where indeed in the work of any con- 
temporary American poet shall we discover a con- 
sistent unison of power and fineness? We have, 
I think, no such poet. The great poet is not, con- 
spicuously at any rate, amongst us. We have iso- 
lated poems which achieve the unison just men- 
tioned we have Robinson's "Ben Jonson Enter- 
tains a Man from Stratford," we have Eliot's 
"Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," we have the 
Blue and Green and White Symphonies of 
Fletcher, two or three pseudo-translations from 
the Chinese by Pound, "Home Burial" by Frost, 
and perhaps a dozen or two shorter things of ex- 
quisite beauty, such as "Peter Quince at the 
[292] 



APPENDIX 

Clavier" by Stevens. And then there is "Spoon 
River." 

VIII 

It is, I know, unpopular at present, to employ 
in criticism what is known as the comparative 
method. A work of art should be estimated in ac- 
cordance as it achieves what it purports to achieve, 
not in accordance as it achieves something else. 
One should not expect an intaglio to shelter us 
from a winter wind. But that theory has its lim- 
its : shall the rotten apple be excused for its rotten- 
ness, on the ground that the rottenness is perfect*? 
Or has one a right to compare it with something a 
little more attractive and sustaining 4 ? I like, for 
example, some of the racy titbits offered in the 
two "Others" anthologies; I like, equally within 
their limits, "Patterns" or "The Congo" ; but have 
I not the right to see, beyond and above these, 
and overshadowing them, "Modern Love" by 
George Meredith, or "Emblems of Love" by Las- 
celles Abercrombie or "An Anthem of Earth" by 
Francis Thompson 1 ? Set "Patterns" against a 
part of "Modern Love" or "The Congo" against 
"An Anthem of Earth"; they will not lose their 
charm of colour, their superficial brightness, but 

[2933 



SCEPTICISMS 

observe how immediately they appear loose and 
amateurish; their essential second-rateness is ex- 
posed. That I feel it in this way is not, I think, 
mere idiosyncrasy. It is not that I do not like the 
stuff of which "Patterns" or "The Congo" is 
made: that objection would be idiosyncratic; it is 
because I am not satisfied with the manner in 
which they are made, with the skill of the artist, 
it is because they seem to me incomplete and 
shoddy as works of art, intermittently felt and in- 
termittently performed, neither finely perceived 
nor finely executed, that, for all the pleasure they 
give me, I must withhold from them a higher esti- 
mate. They are the performance, insecure and 
imprecise, of amateurs remarkably gifted, not the 
performance of artists for whom precision and 
beauty of finish are inevitable. The trouble is at 
bottom, no doubt, that the sensibility of the poet 
is not, in either case, sufficiently rich or varied or 
subtle, extends too little, in the one case, beyond 
brilliant superficialities of colour and external 
shape, too little in the other case beyond the pow- 
erful commonplaces of gusto and rhythm and rhet- 
oric. The finer aspects of sense, the finer shades 
of emotion, and those crepuscular realms which lie 

[2943 



APPENDIX 

between sensation and thought, but to which the 
approach is tactile, have to both poets been denied. 
The misfortune is a common one in the history of 
poetry: let us remember such poets as Campbell 
and Edwin Arnold; when we are tempted to rate 
Lindsay too high on the ground that he is from 
the American point of view so charmingly autoch- 
thonous, let us recall the "Ingoldsby Legends." 

IX 

I have emphasized these two instances chiefly 
because they are so typical. Their artistic incom- 
pleteness is characteristic of contemporary Ameri- 
can poetry, and I should like it to be understood 
that it is only with this basic reservation in mind 
that the relatively serious discussions which com- 
pose this book should be received. It is not a 
question of radical as against reactionary: it is not 
a question of American as against European : it is 
simply and solely a question of whether the given 
poem has beauty, subtlety, intensity, and depth, 
or whether it has not, and in what degree. That 
it is in free verse or a sonnet, that it deals with 
the purely local and indigenous or not, is not neces- 
sarily of great consequence. All that is necessary 

[295] 



SCEPTICISMS 

is that it should be the work of an artist, achieved 
in a moment of maximum efficiency : a sort of effi- 
ciency which we may leave the psychologist to ex- 
plain. 



C2963 



SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Abercrombie, Lascelles: Interludes and Poems. John 

Lane Co. 

Emblems of Love. John Lane Co. 
Aldington, Richard : Images. The Four Seas Co. 
Bodenheim, Maxwell: Minna and Myself. Pagan. 
Bosschere, Jean de : The Closed Door. John Lane Co. 
Bradley, William Aspenwall : Old Christmas. Hough- 
ton, Mifflin Co. 
Branch, Anna Hempstead: The Shoes that Danced. 

Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Rose of the Wind. Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Brooke, Rupert: Collected Poems. John Lane Co. 
Bynner, Witter : Grenstone Poems. Frederick A. Stokes 

Co. 

Davies, W. H. : Collected Poems. Alfred A. Knopf. 
H. D. : Sea Garden. Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
De la Mare, Walter: The Listeners. Henry Holt & 

Co. 

Peacock Pie. Henry Holt & Co. 
Eliot, T. S. : Prufrock and Other Observations. Alfred 

A. Knopf. 

Poems. Richmond Hogarth Press. 

Evans, Donald: Two Deaths in the Bronx. Nicholas 
L. Brown. 

[297] 



SCEPTICISMS 

Fletcher, John Gould: Irradiations: Sand and Spray. 

Houghton, Mifflin Co. 

Goblins and Pagodas. Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Japanese Prints. The Four Seas Co. 
The Tree of Life. The Macmillan Co. 
Frost, Robert : A Boy's Will. Henry Holt & Co. 
North of Boston. Henry Holt & Co. 
Mountain Interval. Henry Holt & Co. 
Gibson, Wilfrid Wilson: Collected Poems. The Mac- 
millan Co. 
Giovannitti, Arturo: Arrows in the Gale. Hillacre 

Bookhouse. 
Graves, Robert: Fairies and Fusiliers. Alfred A. 

Knopf. 

Hardy, Thomas: The Dynasts. The Macmillan Co. 
Poems of the Past and Present. The Macmillan Co. 
Satires of Circumstance. The Macmillan Co. 
Time's Laughing Stocks. The Macmillan Co. 
Hodgson, Ralph : Poems. The Macmillan Co. 
Hueffer, Ford Madox: On Heaven and Other Poems. 

John Lane Co. 

Collected Poems. Max Goschen. 
Some Imagist Poets. (First, second and third series.) 

Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Johns, Orrick: Asphalt and Other Poems. Alfred A. 

Knopf. 
Kreymborg, Alfred: Mushrooms. Alfred A. Knopf. 

Plays for Poem-Mimes. Others. 

Kreymborg, Alfred (editor) : Others (first and second 
series). Alfred A. Knopf. 

[298;] 



SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Lawrence, D. H. : Poems. B. W. Huebsch. 

Look! We Have Come Through. B. W. Huebsch. 
Lindsay, Vachel : General William Booth Enters Into 

Heaven and Other Poems. The Macmillan Co. 
The Congo and Other Poems. The Macmillan Co. 
The Chinese Nightingale. The Macmillan Co. 
Lowell, Amy: Sword Blades and Poppy Seed. The 

Macmillan Co. 

Men, Women, and Ghosts. The Macmillan Co. 
Can Grande's Castle. The Macmillan Co. 
Six French Poets. The Macmillan Co. 
Tendencies in Modern American Poetry. The Mac- 
millan Co. 
Lowes, John Livingston : Convention and Revolt in 

Poetry. Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Masters, Edgar Lee: Spoon River Anthology. The 

Macmillan Co. 

The Great Valley. The Macmillan Co. 
Toward the Gulf. The Macmillan Co. 
Masefield, John : Poems. The Macmillan Co. 

Plays. The Macmillan Co. 
Matthews, E. Powys : Coloured Stars. Fifty Asiatic 

Love Poems. Houghton, Mifflin Co. 
Monro, Harold : Trees. Poetry Bookshop. 

Strange Meetings. Poetry Bookshop. 
Monroe, Harriet (editor) : The New Poetry, An An- 
thology. The Macmillan Co. 

Nichols, Robert: Ardours and Endurances. Frederick 
A. Stokes Co. 

[299] 



SCEPTICISMS 

Pound, Ezra: Lustra. Alfred A. Knopf. 
Pavannes and Divisions. Alfred A. Knopf, 
(editor) : Des Imagistes. An Anthology. Boni & 

Liveright. 

Ridge, Lola: The Ghetto. B. W. Huebsch. 
Robinson, Edwin Arlington: Captain Craig. The 

Macmillan Co. 

Children of the Night. Charles Scribner's Sons. 
The Town Down the River. Charles Scribner's Sons. 
The Man Against the Sky. The Macmillan Co. 
Merlin. The Macmillan Co. 
Sandburg, Carl : Chicago Poems. Henry Holt & Co. 

Cornhuskers. Henry Holt & Co. 
Squire, J. C. : Poems. Alfred A. Knopf. 
Stevens, Wallace: See The New Poetry. 1st and 2nd 

Others Anthologies. 
Tietjens, Eunice: Profiles from China. Alfred A. 

Knopf. 
Untermeyer, Louis : The New Era in American Poetry. 

Henry Holt & Co. 
Williams, William Carlos : Al Que Quiere. The Four 

Seas Co. 

Waley, Arthur (translator) : 170 Chinese Poems. 
Alfred A. Knopf. 



INDEX 



Abercrombie, Lascelles : 12, 

51, 60, 173, 282, 293 
AKRA THE SLAVE: 199, 200 
Aldington, Richard: 59, 93, 

176, 191 

AL QUE QUIERE : 178 ff. 
AMORES: 99 
ANTHOLOGY OF MAGAZINE 

VERSE: 48 
ARDOURS AND ENDURANCES : 

173 ff- 

Arensberg, Walter: 241 
Arnold, Edwin : 295 
Arnold, Matthew: 68-285 

Balzac: 134 

BATTLE, AND OTHER POEMS : 
199 

Becquer, Henri : 68, 69 

Belloc, Hilaire: 221 

Benet, William Rose : 187 ff. 

Bodenheim, Maxwell: 13, 62, 
127, 176, 232 ff., 241, 165, 
167, 268, 269, 281, 282, 2283, 
288 

Bonnard, Abel : 35, 38, 39 

BORDERLANDS AND THOROUGH- 
FARES : 199 

Bosschere, Jean de : 160, 
163 ff., 281, 282 

BOSTON EVENING TRAN- 
SCRIPT : 126 

Bradley, William Aspenwall : 
199 ff- 



Braithwaite, William Stan- 
ley, 48 ff., 126 ff., 179 
Branch, Anna Hempstead : 49 
Brody, Alter: 262, 265, 270 
Brooke, Rupert: 222 
Browning, Robert: 171, 172 
BURGLAR OF THE ZODIAC, 

THE: 187 ff. 
Burr, Amelia Josephine: 53, 

128 
Byron: 170 

Campbell, Thomas : 295 
CAN GRANDE'S CASTLE: 22, 

US ff. 

Carman, Bliss: 53, 128, 129 
CATHAY: 139 
CHALLENGE: 259 
Chaucer : 170 
CHICAGO POEMS : 53, 55 
170 CHINESE POEMS : 224 ff. 
CHINESE LYRICS : 224 ff. 
CHINESE NIGHTINGALE, THE: 

157 

CLOSED DOOR, THE : 163 ff. 
Coleridge, S. T. : 264 
CONGO, THE: 156, 293, 294 
Cranmer-Byng, G. : 224 ff. 
Crapsey, Adelaide : 53 
CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY, A : 

126 ff. 
Croce, Benedetto: 24, 147 

DAFFODIL FIELDS, THE: 151, 
174 



INDEX 



DAILY BREAD: 199 
D'Annunzio, Gabriele : 194, 

197 

Dante : 194, 197, 232 
Dargan, Olive Tilford: 128 
DAUBER, THE: 151 
Davies, W. H. : 53, 59, 190 
De La Mare, Walter: 51, 53, 

59, 187 ff., 206 ff., 222, 267 
"H.D.": 92, 93, 191, 334, 

252 ff., 267 
DIAL, THE: 28 
D'Orge, Jeanne: 162 

EIDOLA : 173 ff. 

Eliot, T. S.: 23, 80, 98, 127, 
129, 161, 162, 163, 177, 
199 ff., 238, 265, 267, 268, 
270, 282, 283, 290 

EMBLEMS OF LOVE: 293 

Euripides : 134 

EVERLASTING MERCY, THE : 



FAIRIES AND FUSILIERS : 

193 . 

FIRES: 199 

Firkins, O. W. : 57 

Flaubert, Gustave: 119 

Fletcher, John Gould : 13, 50, 
53, 54, 58, 60, 62, 93, 94, 
105 ff., 130, 161, 176, 187 ff., 
222, 245, 252 ff., 265, 267, 
268, 269, 270, 281, 282, 283, 
284, 292 

Flint, F. S.: 163 

Fontanelle: 138 

Free Verse : 76 ff., 85 ff., 91 ff., 
1 15, 232 ff., 242 ff., 295 

Freud, Sigmund : 26, 33 ff., 



42, 46, 69, 133, 217, 229, 273 
Frost, Robert : 12, 30, 49, 50, 
54, 55, 58, 60, 62, 65, 66, 69, 
127, 144, 170, 173, 177, 
252 ff., 262, 266, 269, 283, 
291 

Garrison, Theodosia: 178 ff. 
GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH 

ENTERS INTO HEAVEN : 156 
Georgian Poets : 173 
GHETTO, THE: 86 ff. 
Gibson, Wilfrid Wilson: 12, 

Si, 59, 66, 127, 147, 173, 

199 ff., 222-282 
Giovanitti, Arturo : 262, 265, 

270 
Glaenzer, Richard Butler : 

216 ff. 
GOBLINS AND PAGODAS : 53, 55, 

105 ff., 191, 192 
GOOD FRIDAY: 53, 149, 152, 

153 

Graves, Robert : 193 ff. 
GREAT VALLEY, THE: 53, 55 
Gregh, Fernand : 35 
Guerin, Maurice de : 285 

Hagedorn, Hermann: 128 
Haraucourt, M. : 35 
HARVEST MOON : 53 
Helton, Roy: 193 ff. 
Hodgson, Ralph : 59, 206 ff. 
Hogarth, William : 71 
Hoyt, Helen: 162 
Hueffer, Ford Madox: 76 ff., 

282 

Hugo, Victor: 34, 41 
Hunt, Leigh: 213 



[302;] 



INDEX 



Imagists, The: 12, 16, 18, 19, 
49, 53, 54, 55, 61, 65, 66, 98, 
144, 160, 173, 185, 187, 211, 
232, 233, 234, 238, 265 

INGOLDSBY LEGENDS, THE: 

295 

IRRADIATIONS : SAND AND 
SPRAY : 54, 105 ff., 191 

JAPANESE PRINTS : 105 ff., 

187 ff. 
Johns, Orrick: 170, 171, 172, 

231 

Keats, John : 170, 171, 172, 231 
Kilmer, Joyce : 56, 178 ff. 
Kostyleff, Nicolas : 34 ff., 46, 

107, 108, 181, 183, 273 
Kreymborg, Alfred: 12, 49, 

53, 55, 62, 161, 162, 238, 

240 ff., 267, 268, 269 

Laforgue, Jules : 137 
Lawrence, D. H. : 91 ff., 282 
Ledoux, Louis V. : 128 
Lindsay, Vachel : 54, 58, 

155 ff., 219, 269, 291, 292, 

293, 294 
Li Po: 230 

LISTENERS, THE: 53, 190 
LIVELIHOOD : 199 
LOLLINGDON DOWNS : 149, 

153 

Longfellow, Henry Wads- 
worth : 182 

LOOK ! WE HAVE COME 
THROUGH : 91 ff. 

Lowell, Amy: 13, 21, 22, 23, 
29, 49, 50, 54, 55, 58, 59, 60, 



62, 100, nsff., 130, 173, 

191, 219, 222, 251 ff., 252, 
266, 269, 282, 291, 292, 293, 
294, 295 

Loy, Mina : 162, 241 
LUTE OF JADE, A : 224 ff. 
LYRICAL BALLADS : 77, 80 



Mallarme, Stephane: 112 
MAN AGAINST THE SKY, 

THE: 55 

Manning, Frederic : 170 ff. 
Masefield, John: 51, 66, 147, 

149 ff., 170 ff., 173, 197, 199, 

2OO, 222 

Masters, Edgar Lee : 12, 49, 
53, 54, 55, 58, 59, 60, 62, 
65 ff., 69, 98, 129, 144, 161, 

173, 177, 221, 252 ff., 262, 
266, 267, 269, 282, 291, 293 

MECANISME CEREBRALE DE LA 

PEN SEE, LE: 34 
Mencken, H. L. : 57 
MEN, WOMEN, AND GHOSTS : 

22, 55 
Meredith, George: 99, 134, 

153, 172, 293 

MINNA AND MYSELF : 232 ff. 
MODERN LOVE: 99, 293 
Monro, Harold: 206 ff. 
Monroe, Harriet : 13, 56, 57 
Montesquieu, Robert de: 35, 

4i 

Moore, Marianne, 162, 241 
Morley, Christopher: 216 ff. 
Morris, William: 171 
MOTLEY : 187 tf . 
MOUNTAIN INTERVAL: 55 
MUSHROOMS : 53, 55, 240 ff. 



C303] 



INDEX 



NEW ERA IN AMERICAN 

POETRY, THE: 29, 258 ff. 
NEW PATHS: 194, 195 
NEW POEMS: (D. H. Law- 
rence) 09 

NEW REPUBLIC, The: 28 
NEW YORK TIMES, The : 28 
Nichols, Robert: 170 ff. 
Noailles, Madame de: 35, 38 
NORTH OF BOSTON : 54, 66, 173, 
175, 187 

OLD CHRISTMAS : 199 ff. 
ON HEAVEN : 76 
Oppenheim, James: 49, 53, 

262, 265 
Ossian : 86 

OTHERS: 12, 49, 55, 62, 129, 
i6off., 168, 173, 187, 240, 
267, 293 

OUTCASTS IN BEULAH LAND: 
193 ff- 

PAVANNES AND DIVISIONS : 

136 

Pavlov's Law : 69 
PEACOCK PIE: 100, 266 ff. 
PLAYS FOR POEM MIMES : 

240 ff. 

Po Chii I: 227, 230 
Poe, Edgar Allan: 172, 188, 

263, 272 

"POETRY" : 49, 57, 207 
Pound, Ezra: 13, 21, 49, 115, 

136 ff., 160, 191, 267, 292 
Powys, John Cowper : 178 ff. 
PRUFROCK AND OTHER OB- 
SERVATIONS : 109 ff. 



Reed, Edward Bliss : 178 ff. 



Reese, Lizette Woodworth : 

128 

Ridge, Lola : 85 ff., 262 
Robinson, Edwin Arlington : 

30, 55, 58, 59, 60, 62, 65, 

08, 128, 252 ff., 262, 266, 267, 

269, 293 

Rodker, John: 129, 161 
ROSAS : 173 

Sandburg, Carl: 53, 55, 65, 

129, 143 ff., 252 ff., 262, 265, 

269 

Santayana, George : 100, 236 
Seeger, Alan : 133 ff., 222 
Service, Robert W. : 25, 197 
Shakespeare : 134 
Shelley, P. B. : 68, 69, 171, 

265 

Sinclair, May: 164 
SOME IMAGIST POETS : 53. 

See "Imagists" 
SONGS AND BALLADS : 150 
SONGS AND SATIRES: 53, 55, 

72, 73 
SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE: 

216 ff. 

Spingarn, Joel Elias : 24 
SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY: 17, 

18, 19, 54, 63, 66, 73, 74, 

173, 187, 256, 267, 293 
Stevens, Wallace: 62, 127, 

129, 161, 162, 176, 238, 241, 

267, 268, 293 

Stork, Charles Wharton : 54 
STRANGE MEETINGS : 206 ff. 
Swinburne, Algernon 

Charles : 172, 264 
SWORD BLADES AND POPPY 

SEED: 22, 187 



[3043 



INDEX 



Tagore, Rabindranath : 54 
TENDENCIES IN MODERN 

AMERICAN POETRY: 21, 22, 

29, 251 ff. 

Tennyson, Alfred: 144, 172 
Thompson, Francis : 293 
Thomson, James ("B. V.") : 

172 

TOWARD THE GULF: 72 
TREASURY OF WAR POETRY : 

216 ff. 

TREE OF LIFE, THE : 105 ff. 
Turgenev, Ivan: 134 

Untermeyer, Louis : 13, 22, 
23, 25, 29, 51, 57, 258 ff. 

Waley, Arthur: 224 ff. 



War and Laughter : 53 
Wheelock, John Hall: 270 
Whitall, Arthur: 224 ff. 
Whitman, Walt: 86, 93, 148, 

172, 188, 263 
WIDOW IN THE BYE STREET, 

THE: 151 
Wilcox, Ella Wheeler : 23, 25, 

232 
Williams, William Carlos : 

129, 178 ff., 268, 283 
WIND IN THE CORN, THE: 

216 ff. 

WOMENKIND: 199 
Wood, Clement Scott : 262, 

265, 270 
Wordsworth, William : 68, 

77 ff., 264 
Wyatt, Edith: 216 ff. 



Of the papers which compose this book the 
greater number have already appeared in print, in 
The Dial, The New Republic, The North Ameri- 
can Review, The Poetry Journal, and The Chi- 
cago Daily News. 



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